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  April 22, 2011
The Wisdom of Herb...

If the employees come first, then they’re happy.  A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which creates profits and pleases the shareholders.  It’s not one of the enduring great mysteries of all time; it is just the way it works.  
-   Herb Kelleher -  founder of Southwest Airlines  
Several years ago I was having lunch with an older mentor friend of mine.  We were discussing a new business I had just started (OptiFuse) and he stopped for a moment, took out a pen and wrote something on a napkin and folded it up.  He then proceeded to ask me a question about my new business. 

He said, "Jim...excluding price...how does your new company differentiate itself from the competition?"

I thought about this question for a moment and responded, "We simply have better service than our competitors".

He laughed as he unfolded the napkin.  On the napkin my friend had written two words "better service".

I was completely embarrassed and felt as though I was standing in the room in front of a large crowd totally naked.  My friend had hung out the bait and I swallowed it whole...hook, line and sinker.  Soon I was laughing along side my friend as I realized that I had been caught.

After a moment, he spoke to me in a quiet somber voice and said, "Every businessperson I’ve ever met answers that question with the exact same answer.  Everyone believes that their company provides outstanding customer service but most of the time, they really don’t.  In the same way, everyone actually believes that they have a sense of humor but in reality many people just don’t..."

Since that lunch many years ago, I tried to study successful companies, widely recognized for outstanding customer service.  Many companies that I’ve written about in the past such as Nordstrom’s, The Four Seasons Hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, Lexus, Cabala’s, Enterprise Rent-car and Southwest Airlines are all famous for legendary customer service.  

The key to each one of these top performers is not necessarily a great product or the lowest pricing.  The key to their success is simply their employees - from top to bottom.  Each employee feels as though they make a difference at their company and in the end they actually do.

Great customer service companies are built upon caring people - from the very bottom, to the middle managers, up to the top executive management.

Many readers have written to me, explaining that they are not business owners or aren’t really in sales so most of what I write just doesn’t pertain to them.  I don’t blame these individuals for thinking in this manner but rather I blame the top management.  Some people simply believe that they don’t have a say in what happens around them so consequently they do not believe that they can make a difference within their organization.

I recently read an article that outlined a great strategy for creating, growing and keeping great employees who can and will make a difference in your company.  Even if you don’t have any direct report employees or are a sole proprietor, this is still a good model for helping to build an outstanding organization intent on providing the best possible customer experience.

The "CAREER" strategy for creating better employees:

"C" - Care about all employees and coworkers as people - Ask them about their goals and aspirations and try to find ways to help them to reach these goals.  Work in cooperation not competition.  When the size of the pie grows the size of the piece becomes less important.   

"A" - Advocate for those without a voice - Too many times, lower level workers feel that their contributions and suggestions are ignored by management.  Quality employees at all levels contribute to the success of an organization so it’s important for these people to be heard.

"R" - Recognize the contributions (and this doesn’t necessarily mean money) - Recognition and appreciation for extra effort goes a long way in making people happy in their position.  If workers feel like their contributions are recoginized, then they will become devoted advocates and will work harder to ensure the success of the company.

"E" - Educate people - Teach everyone within the organization about how the company makes profits and share information freely.  People don’t like being kept in the dark.  An educated workforce is powerful so provide training and professional development and promote those who have gone the extra mile to gain new skills and knowledge.

"E" - Engage everyone - Good people want to make meaningful contributions and make a difference where they work.  They want to believe in what they do.  Imagine a worker in front of their child’s class on career day.  Will they tell the class that they answer phones, file papers and enter orders or are they going to boast that they help to make a difference to people who are in need of help?

"R" - Remind yourself - This is my employee’s or coworker’s career not just their job.  I am a custodian of their livelihood and the wellbeing of their families.  The successful company that we build together will be shared by this and future generations.

Great service comes from great people.  Our job is to become a better person and help others around us to become better people. 

You don’t manage people...you manage tasks. 

You lead people...

Our companies are not a stock symbol, buildings, websites, corporate logos, or products and services that we sell.  Our companies are defined by us...the people...together who in turn will help other people to get what they want...when they want it...

This is what outstanding service is all about...

Thank you very much for supportng OptiFuse as we try our best to provide outstanding service to our customers but recognize that there is still plenty of room to improve.

Jim Kalb

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