Success Principles

The New Average: How Average Has Become Excellent

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The good news: It's getting easier and easier to stand out. The bad news is our standards and expectations may be falling.

Last February, We needed some brake work done on our SUV. It was likely going to be around $800 worth of work. Because we were in Florida for the winter, I didn't have my regular shop available. So I called four brake shops and asked for a quote. One got back to me to ask a clarifying question, but they didn't call back. I received no calls from the remaining three brake shops. Not one.

Our son Kevin moved to Reno, Nevada last summer and quickly got a part-time job doing valet work at a large casino. In no time at all he was a supervisor. Now Kevin is a very responsible and conscientious worker—always has been. And I don’t want to take anything away from Kevin’s strong work ethic. But the speed at which he was promoted at the casino may have had more to do with him consistently showing up for work. Kevin stood out simply by doing his job.

Tom Peters tells the story of a warehouse equipment manufacturer who was getting complaints of hydraulic leaks from its Japanese customers. What they couldn’t figure out was that the exact same machines sold in the United States had no leaks.

What they found was that ALL the vehicles had leaks. It’s just that the U.S. customers simply tolerated the leaks and did not complain. Only the Japanese customers felt it was unacceptable. What does THAT tell you?

Almost every day someone emails us and thanks us for having gotten back to them quickly and with a personal touch. They seem surprised to get such good service. I can only assume it’s because it’s not the norm. We think prompt and friendly service is the minimum that’s required. Apparently not enough companies operate that way.

Some have joked that IBM became successful because they consistently answered the phone. I’m sure it was part of their success. And if you’ve called many companies lately, you can attest to the importance of the phone being answered quickly and courteously.

I worry about the deterioration of standards in the service industry and in the quality of products manufactured and delivered. As our economic playing field is leveled, we are not only competing with others in our own town but from around the world.

What was average may now be excellent. What was only fair has become average. What was poor is now fair.

There are certainly exceptions. There are companies who walk their talk about customer service. They care. I call these world-class companies. They have high standards and their customers continue to reward them with their business. That's what we should strive for.

Action Point
How do you make sure your standards are not being eroded? Ask your customers. Take a few minutes and call a few. Ask them to rate the different services you provide on a scale of 1 to 10. For anything that’s less than a 10, ask, “What would it take to make it a 10?”

Ask your staff. They’re likely closer to the front lines than you are. Conduct “What’s Not Excellent Meetings”. How can we deliver faster? How can we reduce returns? How can we enhance the customer experience? How can we consistently deliver exceptional customer service?

By constantly raising the bar, you can continually ratchet up your standards, and you will move from average to excellent. The good news is that it doesn’t take all that much to stand out.

Raising the Bar™  Increasing Your Standards of Excellence
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