In the 1980’s, when Boomers dug into their career paths and started hiring other Boomers to do things for them, the United States became a service economy. Driven by their ambition for material success, Boomers opened millions of new businesses to provide services for each other.
When these small businesses were bootstrapping, the owner provided, or at least oversaw all the transactions. He or she cherished every customer. The “extra mile” was available to anyone who wanted to do business. When asked how they thrive when others fail, most owners will start with “We give better service.”
Really? How many small business owners can still say that with confidence? As we build larger organizations, we grow further and further away from our customers. Multi-site operators layer on “systems” to ensure at least the appearance of service, but these aren’t always in evidence.
On the run, I utilized two drive through windows this week. At the first, I received nothing to assist me in eating. No napkins or utensils, just a bag with the food. At the other, the window server didn’t respond to my greeting, say “Thank you” when taking my money, or reply to my “Have a nice day.” Silence throughout the transaction.
My wife took her Dad for outpatient surgery this week. The directions emphasized that they must be checked in and processed no later than 6:30 AM. Getting a wheelchair-bound late-stage Alzheimer’s patient to an appointment takes a lot of work, but they dutifully arrived at 6:00 AM. Once checked in, they were informed that the procedure was scheduled for 10:30.
When my wife asked why they were told to be ready four hours early, the employee responded “Because the doctor likes to have everyone checked in by 6:30 so he knows what his day looks like.” This wasn’t a world-renowned specialist. It was merely one person’s insufferable arrogance.
These are small businesses where service has been forgotten. They aren’t the phone company or the Department of Motor Vehicles, just businesses that are doing so well that they are no longer concerned about whether people leave happy, as long as they leave their money.
On the other hand, I had my car serviced at Gunn Infiniti last week. They had to hold it for an extra day, and my schedule was packed when it was ready. (Side note: My car is eight years old. I’m anything but a high-end customer.) I called between appointments, and told Todd, the service manager, that I could swing by for only a few minutes to pick it up.
When I arrived, it was parked at the door of the service department. Todd came out with my completed paperwork. Including transferring some junk I was carrying, it took six minutes to get in, pay the bill, and get back on the road. I made it to my next appointment on time.
It’s a shame that good service is becoming such a notable event that I think it deserves special recognition. It’s nice, however, that some businesses still deliver it.
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Hunting in a Farmer’s World has received its fifth award, named the Best Business Book by the New York Book Festival. Thank you!