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There is some fine customer service material out there: books, trainers, speakers, articles, videos – but I keep coming back to the two who I think are the kings in this field: T. Scott Gross & the late Peter Glen. It might be true that “there’s nothing new under the sun” in customer service. We need to master the basic principles, which change very little over time.

Interestingly, these two experts share some of the same core teachings – highlighted by their fabulous sense of humor:
* Retail is theater – it’s performance art. Some customers will take part in the “play,” some won’t. A wise employee figures out who can handle it & who can’t.
* Humor is golden – part of the “experience” customers want when shopping & buying. Kind of goes along with the smile, doesn’t it?
* A smile covers a multitude of sins, don’t you think? Those folks at Trader Joe’s LIKE working there.
* Recovery is a key: customers can handle your mistakes if you recover thoroughly & quickly.
* All things being equal, great customer service is your competitive advantage.
* As a customer, deal out your praise AND wrath at every opportunity – the store manager, if he’s any good, will appreciate it. I go out of my way to let store managers know when I’ve been blessed by an outstanding employee. I’ve also vented my wrath when appropriate.
* Study the best companies – they’ve already mastered the keys of customer service. Ask them questions, ask for advice, pick their brains.
*All customer service complaints should be handled (resolved) at the lowest possible level.

Some of their books (& a few from others) I’d highly recommend would be:
1) Why Service Stinks – T. Scott Gross
2) The Spirit to Serve – J.W. Marriott, Jr.
3) It’s Not My Department – Peter Glen
4) 10 Years of Peter Glen – Peter Glen
5) Secret Service – John Dijulius
6) Discovering the Soul of Service – Leonard Berry

And note that T. Scott Gross is a fabulous keynote speaker who has worked with some of the world’s best companies. You have to like a guy whose wife’s nickname is “buns.” Find him at http://www.tscottgross.com

As the NOV midterm elections come up, particularly here in California, our options (with few exceptions) seem to be between “bad & worse.” We have been robbed by so many career politicians for so long that we might not know a real leader if we saw one. This is how sad our elected representatives are. I urge everyone, across the nation, to overlook the party affiliation of those who are running and ask yourself: is the person I’m voting for going to SERVE the people? That the 2-party election system is destroying elections is beyond argument, but that’s another discussion. It’s a sad country where you have to be labeled democrat or republican to stand any real chance of being elected to a major office. The movie “Dumb & Dumber” comes to mind.

The photo of Mother Theresa reminds me how absolutely foreign the idea of “servant leadership” has become to most of our elected officials. These career politicians are so far from our founders’ idea of “citizen statesmen” that it’s frightening. The original plan was for a farmer/shopkeeper/soldier to serve in the legislature for a few years, and then go back to his “real job.” My, my, my…how we’ve perverted this concept.

Until we demand that our elected officials faithfully serve those who they represent (oh yeah…this would NOT include those of other countries, terrorists & the U.N.), then we deserve every bad thing that could happen to us. We (that includes yours truly) have earned our present woeful situation by depending on others to “take care of business” at the state and federal level. It’s just now dawning on many of us what a disaster our apathy has caused. We are the laughing-stock of the world – well on our way to becoming a 3rd-rate banana republic.

Have you seen the movie “Defiance” with Daniel Craig? As I watched this recently it dawned on me that this is where our nation is headed. All it takes is for many of us to turn away and say “someone else will fix things.” We have only 2 choices, really: (1) fix our corrupt, broken govt. or (2) move to another country. If you choose #1, then you’re in for a rough ride. What did Morpheous tell NEO….”Nobody said it would be easy.”

I’m somewhat baffled by our society’s (business, religious, govt.) total ignoring – and thorough ignorance – of the principles of servant leadership. It’s rare to find any USA organization that upholds and fosters this kind of leadership. No matter what your religious persuasion, we understand that Jesus taught that this was “thee” leadership principle – the idea that true leaders show their leadership by serving those around them. He demonstrated this by washing the dusty feet of his own disciples. So Jesus taught us that real leaders seek to serve OTHERS, not to BE served. If this is new to you…..take a minute and digest the magnitude of that. This isn’t “the way we do things anymore” – much to our shame.

Here are some of the reasons why maybe we’ve gotten so far off track on the single most important leadership principle ever taught:
1) We’re living in the “rock star CEO” era – where we’ve made the mistake of putting business people/religious leaders on a pedestal. Until we cease this folly – our organizations are doomed. Man was never made to be worshiped – he was created to serve others while “pulling in the harness” with co-workers.
2) It takes humility to serve others – and class and grace and style. Is it just me, or do most of our alleged “leaders” have very few of these traits? We tend to hire people for their flash and agressiveness (& excellent hair…Dilbert would say), rather than for their ability to work with others.
3) We follow the lead of govt. leaders, assuming this is “how you lead others.” But in the USA, we’re having to endure the most scandalous, self-serving federal govt. in our history. This isn’t leadership, this is tyranny. I’m talking about BOTH parties. Let’s don’t follow any of their examples.
4) Our screwing up the whole concept of “motivation” goes along nicely with our warped ideas on leadership. Motivation is internal, a fire that burns from the inside….no other human really motivates us for very long. So all the stirring speeches, bold talk, threats and coercion of “leaders” quickly fades away – forgotten. The only person who can really motivate you is….you.

I have the good fortune to work at a place where the owner/leaders have cultivated the practice of servant leadership. Knowing that they have my best interests at heart, and gladly serve me in any way they can (I’m not one of the owners), I quite gladly give them my heart and soul at the workplace, six days a week. When and if they lose their minds and revert to the pathetic type of “leadership” so prevalent in our culture, neglecting to “serve” – I’ll head elsewhere. Life is too short. As one of my mentors used to say: Find a fun place and go work there, this is your life!

I’m fascinated by how easy it would be to improve customer service in retail by tweaking just a few things. I can’t be the only one who sees this stuff!
1) retail employee takes his “smoke break” about 3′ outside the front door – so you get to walk through that as you enter the store. Really great….as you walk inside the restaurant.
2) 2 employees badmouth their employer and/or co-workers within earshot of customers. This is always, always a NO-NO.
3) Employee carries on conversation with another employee – or their cell phone – while you’re at the cash register.
4) Employee finds it difficult to speak to you while eating that burger & 40-oz. drink. It’s so fun to see the food in their mouth as they try to talk.
5) When you ask where to find an item, they point “over there” – instead of TAKING you there.
6) Employee looks like they haven’t bathed in several days – or know what shampoo is for.
7) Six people (you too) wait in line while they take 5 more minutes to do a “price check.” Usually less than a dollar is in question.
8) Employee (man or woman) dresses in a manner that gives you nightmares & ugly flashbacks for years.
9) The employee uses their sleeve to wipe their runny nose – especially cool in a restaurant. Yes, I’ve seen this many times.
10) When you ask for help in the store, they say they can’t help you now because “they’re on their break.”

The next time you go to your REI store, as one example, I doubt you’ll have any of these experiences. By the way, at a 10-15 minute visit today to my local ACE Hardware store, I was asked by 4 different employees “How can I help you, sir?”. That’s why I’d rather be there than at Home Depot, hands down.

I was surprised at a thread on LinkedIn recently in which almost every single one of the posts staunchly defended the well-known idea that “the customer is always right” (& “the customer is king”). These sound like they just must be true, but we can get tunnel vision here that’s actually harmful to conducting a good business.

First of all, let’s take a hard look at customers as a whole. We’d agree that some are often wrong (in the facts, their viewpoint, their lack of honesty, etc.). Sometimes the customer just isn’t right. Sometimes they’re idiots – dishonest – deadbeats – argumentative. Sometimes they’re just plain SOB’s and we know it! There’s no reason to deny this and play some word game here.

Secondly, this group (customers) must always come 2nd – after the employees of my company. It is the EMPLOYEES, my co-workers, who find, create, nurture, serve and retain our customers. Some of the world’s best companies have figured this out. That’s why their employee turnover is almost non-existent, why everybody wants to work for them, and a huge part of why these companies are so successful. Great employees attract the best customers!

I bet there are few people on this planet who believe more strongly in fantastic customer service than me, but I also believe that every once in a while we need to say to a few of our customers “it’s been swell, but it’s time for us to part and I wish you the best. We just don’t seem to be a good fit anymore.” Everyone at your company will be happier, more productive, and better off financially in the long run. There are a lot of prospects still out there who are professional, honest, financially sound, and a joy to deal with. These are the kind of customers I want to go after.

I’m re-reading “Nuts!” – the story of Southwest Airlines that came out long ago. I’m inspired and thrilled….all over again, to read of their painful beginnings and fantastic success. Along the way they forged some ideas that still seem barely noticed by many large organizations:
1) The customer isn’t “King” or #1 or Most Important: the employees are. Everything flows from the employees.
2) Love works better than fear. Having worked in both types of companies, I can attest to this. If you have my best interests at heart, and I know it, you have my devotion 6 days a week.
3) If what we’re working toward is best for the employees AND our customers, then, in the long run, we’re all gonna make money – maybe a lot of it. Here we get into profit-sharing and equity.
4) The language of “employee” & “management” is never appropriate – and simply confirms the wage-slave mentality of most organizations. That we even use these words shows how far we have to go.
5) FUN must be part of the business. Which reminds me of Bob Townsend’s line, “If you’re not here for fun & profit, what the hell are you doing here?”.
6) At the best companies they seem to work hard & play hard…the two seem to go together – have you noticed that?
7) EVERY business is in the “customer service” business – period. Southwest understood this from day one.

Any start-up, or sizable organization, could gain a lot from this tale. This is about a small band of people who took on some of the world’s biggest companies (& the Supreme Court several times) – and won. Might be the best $12.21 you ever spent at Amazon. (The guy on the Harley is Herb, their Chariman)

“AND GOD CREATED THE ORGANIZATION AND GAVE IT DOMINION OVER MAN.” (Robert Townsend).

Both Wallstreet and the mainstream media seem to love creating celebrities out of business CEO’s: Jack Welch (fire 10% of your people each year; Al Dunlap (short-term profits are everything, let’s fire all the worker-bees); and particularly our nation’s Celebrity-In-Chief – who has never so much as operated a lemonade stand (no offense intended to small children who HAVE actually run a lemonade stand). These guys provide us with the provocative quote, a quick sound bite. Lots of fluff, no substance.

There’s a lot of truth in Scott Adam’s (Dilbert) assertion that any well-trained monkey could adequately run many of our largest corporations and organizations (think “U.S. Congress”). This has created an entire very successful cottage industry in the entertainment world: The Office, Dilbert, and http://www.despair.com.

We’ve elevated the PRES/CEO to almost mythical status as we put him/her up on a pedestal – to be revered, practically worshiped. There are entire organizations (I know this is true, I’ve worked for a few) where every employee is strongly encouraged to check their brains at the front door each morning.

Would you agree that, instead of being feared/revered/worshiped, the CEO’s job should be mainly to: (1) find the best possible people, (2) remove all obstacles hindering the success of those people, (3) establish a corporate culture of openness & servant leadership, (4) establish a vision that includes input from ALL in the organization, vs. a select few, and (5) act as “playing coach” – not a dictator.

I read somewhere that a President/CEO has about 5 years of effectiveness in any organization. After that, it’s time to move on (retire or be let go) to a new challenge. I like that. So if your CEO thinks they’re a Rock Star, I pity you and your co-workers. I’ll go with the humble guy who shuns the spotlight – in favor of supporting his employees every day.