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Service is Missing

Service is missing – this is not hard to see. Not everywhere, but lack of service is so widespread as to be the norm. I believe that service is for the most part missing as a value and attribute of organizations that are, like it or not, in the service business. I believe that service is a mind set, not tasks or labor. It is, rather, a commitment one makes to have people feel welcomed, respected and valued. It often involves the exchange of something of value (it could be information or knowledge) and most significantly, it is a way of being that leaves people feeling “taken care of.” In some situations this can simply be called “hospitality”, but it is more than that.  Service is a personal commitment, a way of being that others are satisfied.

Yesterday, I walked into a local establishment for breakfast and had to interrupt the conversations behind the counter to order. I have no doubt that the activities of the night before were of interest to the people who worked there – how drunk who got and with whom they left the bar – I, on the other hand, just wanted some breakfast, and having to interrupt, felt like I was interfering. There, in the local coffee shop, I watched the backs of the people “serving” customers as they went about their lives, with the fact that someone was waiting for them, that patrons were waiting, merely incidental.

I remember being greeted as I came into an establishment. I remember when it seemed that the people I do business with actually wanted me, personally – not just someone – but specifically me, to purchase their goods and/or services. I still find that quality in some places – and to those places I go often.

Where I live there is wonderful food and there are places where the staff is more or less friendly, but in an establishment where service is present, I find myself comfortable, at home. The place where I am most likely to eat the first meal of the day may or may not have the best food, but I like being there. Such is the case also where I buy gas for my car. For years the owner said hello to me every time I came in, inquired sincerely as to how I was, and smiled as he took my money. For years now, he has not been behind the counter. The business is too prosperous for that. But I still go there. And although not everyone who works there is as much a pleasure as he, I know his intention is to have me feel valued as a customer.

My lawyer is someone I like, my doctor too. My landlord calls me by name and seems interested in who I am. The woman who manages my office complex is the same way. My bank, the one I stay with, isn’t the fastest, and their rates on some things may not be better than at the bank across the street, but they say “hi” when I come in. When they are with me there, they aren’t talking to others, they are in a conversation with me. They seem to value my business and when I make a request, they listen.

There is something about the way that so many do business that seems to have cut out civility, courtesy, pleasure. It is not technology – communication through telephones or on line or even text has the same potential as communication through the telephone, or letters written and sent by mail carrier, horse, boat or train, and taking months to reach their destination. Words, whether by e-mail, letter or text, are not the problem. It is the rush, the getting things done over the quality of what is accomplished. And what is it that is accomplished? Is it of value?

I have clients with whom I have worked extensively who hold service to be the core of their business. Some hold their business to be exhibiting the highest standard of service anywhere in their industry. The challenges they face in continually raising the bar to deliver the finest possible level of service are real. And they can be powerfully resolved.

What examples do you have of great service you have received? I would love to hear them.

In 1999 I placed my first order from the online telephone equipment dealer, Hello Direct. I was referred to them by a colleague who had done business with them for several years. He had been referred by someone else. The order came in exactly as I wanted, and when 6 months later I had a challenge reconnecting the equipment in a new environment they were there for me. A year later I ordered something that did not meet my expectations and when I called their response was, “we are sending you a new one today, please get it hooked up and working and make sure it works perfectly, then send us the old one as a return.” It was in this moment, when they failed to meet expectations first and then made up for it simply and directly that my loyalty was redoubled. They took great care of me. Since then I have purchased or directed the purchase of cordless phones, speaker phone systems, headsets for office phones and cell phones and entire phone systems. I have referred them to at least 50 other people as well.  In January, a headset I purchased 10 months before began to have problems; it was well worn and heavily used. I called them and let them know, expecting nothing, as I certainly had gotten my full value out of the device. Their response was, “we are sending you a new one today, please get it hooked up and working and make sure it works perfectly, then send us the old one as a return.” These two calls were almost 10 years apart. In this organization service is not missing. It is alive and well and inspires me to such an extent I write about it here. This is a story I feel moved to tell to hundreds of people and do.

Great service and being known for great service is something one can produce as a matter of intention. It takes real commitment, however. And it may take some support. At ALS we are expert at supporting organizations in developing a model of service that fully expresses their intention.  We are committed that you are taken care of.

If you would like to discuss this topic, please contact us. I promise you that our communication will bring lasting value.

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