Friday, December 30, 2005

Service--But Mostly The Lack Thereof

Travels over the holidays
took me to Dallas and points beyond. In the spirit of
the holidays, I ran from place to place, stressed in
traffic jams, shopped like it was my job, and burned
gasoline like it was going out of style.

In the
11 days of being flogged by the holiday experience, I
experienced “service,” but mostly a lack of service,
almost always in the context of doing business, trying
to buy something or getting someone to help me. And, for
the most part, I was disappointed.

“I can’t do that.”

“I don’t know.”

“I have no way of finding out.”

“I have to talk to my manager and he’s not here
right now.”

“No, I don’t know when he’ll come

“I know the door’s open, but we’re

“I can’t check you out. It’s not my

I heard all of those
and more. And, on reflection, I noticed that the larger
the company, the worse the service I experienced.
Indeed, the only positive service experiences this
holiday season were at smaller companies, to include a
computer repair store that not only went out of their
way to make sure my laptop was ready for my departure,
but even found the locksmith to come unlock my car
which, in the spirit of the holidays, I locked my keys
in. One family-owned jewelry store also bent over
backwards to see that my lack of punctuality didn’t cost
anyone their surprise.

Why? Do small businesses
attract people with better attitudes or who are more
service-oriented? I think not. Rather, I believe it is
because smaller businesses find it easier and more
natural to create a familial environment, to credibly
connect by knowing everyone with whom they work, and
from knowing and working closely together, empathy
results and from that relationships which makes these
employees happier and, it seems, better suited to
service customers like me.

Employees who know –
really know – their supervisors, who know their boss,
who know their owner, are happier for the experience. In
their minds, their managers are people, not positions.
These happier employees are better employees, and they
stay longer. Sears proved the point when they conducted
an 800-store survey that showed the impact of employee
attitudes on the bottom line. When employee attitudes
improved by 5%, customer satisfaction jumped 1.3%,
consequently increasing revenue by one-half a percentage

Of course, there are many employees with
large, public companies who are also happy. In some
cases, it is because their companies have made an effort
to make a large, impersonal environment feel smaller and
more personal. It may be because their manager has gone
out of her way to recognize the individuality of each
person for whom she is responsible. In other cases, it
may be the pride that some employees feel who work for
companies that are known for their social
responsibility, companies like Starbucks, Microsoft,
Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Build-A-Bear Workshop, just
to name a few.

In the end, work brings people
together. Those employers that do the best job of
bringing their employees together in meaningful ways
lead them to attitudes of care, compassion, and concern,
and these are the employers best able to make the case
for customer service because they are able transfer what
they do for each other everyday to those of us who need
their help on occasion.

Best wishes for a Happy
New Year, one filled with happiness, and service, too.


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