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Posted September 22, 2008 by johnspence

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I have just gotten off the phone with one of my favorite clients in the world, Austin Outdoor, a really cool company that delivers world-class landscaping services for top resorts, hotels, corporations and communities. I am currently helping them roll-out their new “ Customer Service Excellence ” program and it has been a joy to watch their team devour this project with enthusiasm, passion and professionalism. Why are they doing such an extraordinary job at this? I’ll tell you the secret: they “get it.” Let me explain…

I have another client, who will go unnamed, who was already in the middle of a “Culture Change Initiative” when I came on board. As part of this program managers have been instructed that they must send five “Thank You” notes to employees every month and must also go out and visit with each of their direct reports at least once a week, basically forced MBWA (Management By Wandering Around). Here is the problem; they are trying to improve the culture of the company by mandating actions that would reflect underlying intentions. A great culture does not come from managers who send five thank you notes a month – it comes from leaders who are genuinely “thankful” for what their employees do and send a hand-written note to show it. A great culture is not about MBWA, it is about leaders who are curious and truly like spending time with their people, asking how things are going, checking in on them personally.

It was a real flash of insight a few weeks back when I suddenly realized that many of today’s leading business “programs” were actually just ways to force people to do what they should be doing… if they had the necessary passion, professionalism and discipline. The “Five Why’s of TQM” are a just a process for making lazy thinkers… think more deeply. Top Grading” is simply a way to force managers to fire poor performers and blame it on the company… sorry, bottom 5% had to go!Work Out from GE, is merely a way to facilitate extremely frank and open communication between managers and subordinates. My point is, if you had people that were intellectually rigorous, intolerant of mediocrity and courageous in their communication – you would not need to implement any of these programs!

I had been planning to write this blog from some time, but this morning I was checking another blog I really enjoy reading (Conversation Agent) and ran across a fantastic story by Stephen Denny called: “The Difference Between What Hip Looks Like and What Hip Is” that really nails this topic and got me fired-up to get my thoughts down. It is a tale about Stephen and his son Nick going through airport security and dealing with the ever-so-friendly folks at TSA. It is definitely worth a read – a classic marketing message mess-up!

ou see, even though Austin Outdoor has developed a robust and extremely thoughtful customer service excellence program (based on feedback from real customers – how unique!) it is not the workbooks, posters, slogans or corporate marketing that will drive amazing customer service, it is the honest passion and enthusiasm of the wonderful people at Austin Outdoor that will. You see… they get it. They understand that the only sustainable competitive advantage left to a business like theirs is creating a culture of continuous innovation focused on delivering consistently superior customer service. Lots of people can design landscapes, plant trees and mow the lawn – but very few can earn the right to create premiere properties and build lasting relationships ” as trusted partners to some of the finest resorts, hotels and communities in the Southeast U.S. and Bahamas.

You need the program. You need the posters and slogans and systems and surveys and the training… because you simply can’t deliver consistently superior customer service without a clear and specific “repeatable process.” However, all the “process” in the world can’t help you… if you don’t get it.

Hope that helps — let me know what you think — take good care, John

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