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Service Tips Traverse Fields And Frontiers


By Craig Harrison

"Something borrowed, something true,
something novel, something new."

Often innovation and improvement can result from employing twists on conventional wisdom, and in applying old concepts in new ways. I find concepts from other fields, cultures and even earlier time periods to be illuminating. More than once or twice I have been able to apply logic or wisdom from elsewhere in my own field of endeavor. Haven't you?

This month I share some of my favorite concepts and show how they can apply to our customer service environment.

Continuous Improvement

First stop on our tour of terms is Japan. The Japanese have a concept, kaizen, which bears discussion. Kaizen, translated, means continuous improvement. It’s a noble endeavor of every Japanese business and is as constant as our motive to remain profitable. It's not that they don't set goals for improvement, but that their quest for improvement never ends, even when those goals are attained. It's reminiscent of the Hebrew National hot dog commercials in which we're told they answer "to a higher authority." In Japanese culture, continuous improvement is the norm.

What would it mean for your business to adopt a kaizen approach to quality and customer service? Your customers would surely benefit. I believe internal morale would too, as your employees took additional pride in their craft and in knowing that their company supported their efforts.

A Little Something Extra

Last January I first introduced the Cajun concept of lagniappe: giving a little something extra to our customers, to show appreciation for their patronage and encourage their return. We all love that little something extra which isn't on the menu and doesn't cost extra. It makes us feel special to receive a bonus. Try to include some Southern hospitality in the form of lagniappe where your customers are concerned. While customers focus their attention on insuring they're getting their money's worth, surprise them by giving them that little something extra they weren't expecting.

Win-Win Games

Are you competitive? Do you like to play games? Do you like to win? Games theorists can explain the different types of games that exist. One variety is known as a zero sum game. In a zero sum game, there is only one winner. While great for the winner, the rest of the field, by definition, loses. Our sporting tournaments are structured this way: only one team wins the Super Bowl, World Series or World Cup. Despite great seasons, every other team in the field loses its last game, and is often perceived by the general public to be the losers, despite outlasting the entire field, save for the one ultimate winner. When I mention the Buffalo Bills what comes to mind? A decade of excellence and four AFC championships? Or do you flash on their distinction of losing four Super Bowls?

When you set up rewards programs, contests and other incentives for your employees, clients and customers, try to avoid zero sum games, owing to the feelings of disappointment, frustration and resentment which arise from "losing." An alternative to strive for is the "win-win" game. In this scenario, my winning isn't predicated on your losing. In fact, we can both win. Your success doesn't come at my expense. Together we succeed.

Rules That Bend Don't Break

Another phrase with customer service ramifications is the distinction made in the legal profession between "the letter of the law" and "the spirit of the law." Many of our laws date back to our Constitution. Judges and lawyers spend a great deal of time applying old laws to new circumstances, while also applying new logic to old laws. Thus we hear distinctions between the letter of the law – what it explicitly says, versus the spirit of the law – the intention behind it. Sometimes a literal application of the law misses the point.

How true this is in customer service situations. Often we can become so focused on citing chapter and verse of our own policies, rules or guidelines, that we obscure their primary purpose…to best serve our customers.

I encourage you to revisit your protocols for customers and see if your focus is on the letter of these 'laws' or the spirit behind them. Having guidelines is meaningful, but adhering to them incessantly may not be the most prudent cause of action.

I've reached my term limit for this column. Meanwhile I encourage you to look beyond your chosen field of endeavor for ideas, concepts and practices you can apply to your business. Your twist on others' ideas may not only help you serve your clients better, but increase productivity, employee retention and even add to your client base. Whether you're at the opera, at the ballpark or on an airplane, see how others are operating and apply what works for you. Then these terms will become terms of endearment for you.


Note: This article originally appeared in a 2000 edition of City News,
the newsletter for the National Association of Catering Executives (NACE)
of Northern California

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