The WOW Factor: Two Tales of Everyday Service Excellence and the Power of Pareto’s Principle

Service to your clients is the rent you pay for working at your place of employment. It’s the ultimate purpose of your job–not something you do in your spare time or when the going is easy. And relationship–earnestly relating to those whom consume your services–is the finest of service delivery systems.

A recent Harvard Study revealed that customers/clients consistently come back to people they like. Apparently, 80% of the inspiration to do that is based on the friendly and caring personality of the service provider…the positive way in which the service provider relates to the client. A mere 20% of a client’s inspiration to return to a specific service provider is based on skill. Pareto’s (80/20) Principle strikes again!

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.
You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.
You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

— Martin Luther King, Jr

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It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life,
that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Consider the above quotations, the Harvard stats and your own definition and examples of service excellence as you review my two personal favourite “WOW! Factor” service excellence tales.

Tale One:

I was left, balling my eyes out, on Dundas Street in Toronto, in the middle of the bridge that spans the Humber River, on a miserable, cold and rainy March 22, back in 1999. What happened you ask? This:

On March 17th, 1999, I was diagnosed with cancer. Despite the shock, the worry and the fear, life soldiered on in the days that followed. There were groceries to buy, kids to drive to school and even on the day I received this worst of news, I had to quickly experience the distress of my uncertain destiny, have a good cry, clean myself up and then get ready to deliver a conference keynote at 6 p.m.! (The keynote, by the way, was a blessing in disguise. Not much time to wallow in “Pity City” that day, but I did end up visiting that “community” the following Monday).

Returning from driving my daughter to school that Monday morning, I noticed my car was losing power. With 4-ways a-blinking, and with my dog, Angus, at my side, I prayed that I could get my vehicle safely to my dealership before it went kaput. No such luck. My car died right there, mid-bridge. Thankfully, I had roadside assistance. After 45 minutes a burly tow truck “hero” came to my rescue. “I’ll take your car for you, and you too, but not the dog!” Not my dog??? How was that going to work for me??? I pleaded and appealed that he take us both–even cried–but the answer was still, “No.” Seems this big, tough-looking guy was afraid of my sweet 30 lb Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, who’d never even growled at a stranger, let alone bit one! What was I to do?

Off went my car on the tow truck’s hoist. Out came more waterworks from my eyes, as well as from the skies. Poor Angus, dripping wet, no coat, stood faithfully by my side, skittish of the cars whipping by too closely, as we stood, stranded, on the bridge’s skinny adjacent sidewalk. First the cancer news. Then my car! I felt very sorry for myself that morning. What I sight I must have been.

After a couple of moments, I composed myself and called my dealership. I got my favourite rep on the line–Danny. With all the noise of the street, the steady swishing sound of cars traveling over wet roads and my muffled sobs, I told Danny my forlorn story–the cancer part and all. He replied, “Where are you right now? Exactly? I’m coming for you, Nina. Stay there. Stay put. I’m coming for you right now! Hang on.” I don’t know how many rules of the road he broke, but Danny was curbside in amazingly short order. He swooped both me and my Angus into the warmth and safety of his car. He couldn’t have been more heroic to me that dismal morning if he’d been in a suit of medieval armour, on a caparison-cloaked white horse. He took us home. Now that is what I call, “Going the Extra Mile on Service!”

Fast forward to 2005. December. I went into my dealership for an oil change and asked, “Where’s Danny today?” Sad faces presented, that had written all over them, “Oh boy, here we go again.” Danny had died of a heart attack, while on vacation in the Caribbean over the Thanksgiving weekend. He’d taken his whole family, grandchildren and all, down to the sun for some fun and frolic. Indeed, on his last day he did frolic on the beach with his grandchildren and then topped that wonderful day off with dinner and a Vegas-type show at which all attended. Right there, while sitting upright and enjoying the glitz and glamour of it all, he quietly just passed away, in place. No one even knew until the lights came up.

I came into my dealership in December and heard this sad news, but those that worked there had had to recount this story many times, as a seemingly endless rotation of clients came by from mid-October onward. And, most every one of them unashamedly cried upon hearing the news. As did I. No wonder the staff’s faces revealed, “Oh boy, here we go again.”

Some may think a story of death is a morose way to punctuate an example of service excellence, but what a testament…that client after client after client, for weeks and weeks, would actually cry, on-the-spot, upon hearing the news of this wonderful service provider’s passing. Danny sure did it right, every time out. One wonders if his employer appreciated that. To me, Danny was my dealership. Without him, how I relate to that dealership has never really been the same. I’m quite likely to jump (dealer)ship next car.

So here are a couple of service excellence reflective questions to consider:

  1. Would those whom you serve at work cry if you passed away?
  2. Are you delivering the kind of WOW! service excellence to your clients or customers that would have them shedding tears upon your earthly exit?

Let’s hope we don’t find that out for a long, long time. Still, it’s something to consider–yes?

And here are two more:

  1. What are three WOW! factor professional attitudes and behaviours that come regularly and easily/naturally to you?
  2. To go further along the extra mile of service excellence, what is one thing you should stop doing? one thing to start doing? and one thing you know you do spectacularly well now, and should continue doing?

The “moral of this first service excellence tale”, from where I stand, is this:

All experiences of service excellence boil down to caring, authentic and positive professional relations. Relations where you, as the service provider, keep extending the Excellence Olive Branch, whether or not the client cares to acknowledge or accept. You, as the service provider, are always in control of the service you provide and the grace with which you deliver the goods. Not the other. And whether or not you get all the kudos you deserve (from your clients or your boss) for all the good you do on your organization’s behalf, rest assured if you are regularly going the extra mile on service there is surely some quiet and significant percentage of your client base out there waxing poetic about you, singing your praises and using your service excellence example as the gold standard by which they measure the performance of others. Isn’t that nice to know/to believe…even if you never get the praise directly? And, on top of that, it just may help you feel better–more passionate–about your day-to-day professional contributions, too.

Tale Two:

Two years ago I spoke at the World Council of Credit Unions’ International Conference in Calgary, Alberta. I’d forgotten to ship my books ahead, so I schlepped a quantity cross-country in an extra suitcase. Normally I’m a pro at traveling light. Twenty-two pounds of carry-on luggage is all I tote, so that I can swan in and out of airports lickity-split. This time was the exception and I thought I’d handled it pretty well, thanks to a little weight training!

I stayed at the Palliser Hotel and slept soundly until the pre dawn (I was to speak at 9 a.m.). I thought it odd that I’d stirred before my alarm, but upon coming to further consciousness the reason became clear. I WAS IN EXCRUTIATING PAIN! My neck was frozen. I couldn’t even lift my head off the pillow.

Self-diagnosis told me that, at the very least, my neck was in spasm and, at the very most, I’d severely strained it lifting that extra suitcase. Now I was in a big pickle. There I was, in the darkness of my hotel room, in another province, all alone, expected to be of speaker service to hundreds of people in less than 4 hours and I couldn’t move. I felt around for the portable phone, held it above my face and called the front desk. I asked if they would bring me some Advil. Unfortunately–and surprisingly, I thought–they did not have any on-site, but the wonderful and concerned front desk clerk offered to have a colleague cover her duties while she drove to a 24 hour pharmacy and bring back relief.

Bless her heart, within 30 minutes she was through my door with the passkey, serving up complimentary orange juice with Advil. With advice from Telehealth, I was told I could safely take up to four pills at once. (It sort of reminded me of a Jerry Seinfeld joke, where he confessed he liked to know how much pain medication would kill him, and then just back if off a bit!). I took the max. The young woman stayed with me for the next 30 minutes to ensure my safety. By 5:30 a.m. my neck pain was manageable, I could fake a convincing smile, demonstrated limited range of movement and was able to get out of bed, take a shower and wash my hair. Voila! One keynote speaker ready to deliver the 9 a.m. goods!

To me, by 10:30 that morning, I’d witnessed and played a staring role in a five hour minor miracle. And the clerk from the Palliser was my co-staring angel of mercy. No wonder the Palliser is now always my personal favourite and first choice for my Calgary speaking engagements! This service excellence tale marks yet another stellar example of a true professional going the extra mile on service. This tale wasn’t based on a firm and historic foundation of relationship however, for, although I asked for her help with as much politeness as possible, the night clerk had never laid eyes on me until she arrived with pills and juice in hand. She merely came from her own heart’s desire to do the best she could for a client in need, for the sake of the hotel’s standards towards guests, perhaps, and also for her own.

So here are a few more service excellence reflective questions to consider:

  1. When a client of yours is in a pinch (no pun intended!), do you do all you can/are you as creative and/or as flexible as possible to lend “heroic” assistance?
  2. Are you willing to put yourself out to demonstrate service excellence, even if it means going beyond the call of duty/ beyond the parameters of your time or beyond your job description?
  3. What is one classic service excellence story you can recount/about which you are proud, pertaining to your current professional position?
  4. How did one of your service excellence insights and/or actions “save the day” (and maybe even your organization’s reputation)?

And the “moral of this second service excellence tale”, from where I stand, is this:

Beyond, “Don’t schlep a heavy suitcase filled with books cross-country!”, always put yourself in your client’s shoes. Empathize first, act second, in a quick one-two combo. “Feel their pain” (not literally!), and do what you can to ease that pain, even if it means going beyond the parameters of your regular job description. See what needs to be done and act on that observation before being asked by the client (in the same way that Wayne Gretzky stated he never skated to where the puck was at, but, rather, to where he saw the puck was going!). Where possible, stay close by or on-call /follow-up until the all-clear is heralded and the client’s need or concern is satisfied. Be as kind as you can, even to crotchety clients (not that I was one of those, I hope!). Why? Because you’re not just being kind to them for their sake, but also for your own…for how you represent both yourself and your organization. So that at your workday’s end, you can go home knowing you’ve done the best you could that workday and helped at least one other out. This approach helps you feel all that much better about coming back the next day, with sincere desire to go that extra mile all over again.

If your clients are gladly and specifically returning to you/asking for you, you can declare, as Sally Field once said in her second Academy Award winning acceptance speech, “You like me! You really like me!” Continue to be worthy of your clients’ support. Your job and career, and your organization’s ongoing success, may very well depend on it!

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.
— Helen Keller

Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others,
cannot keep it from themselves.

— James M. Barrie

Kindness in words creates confidence.
Kindness in thinking creates profundity.
Kindness in giving creates love.

— Lao – Tse

Never forget any bit of praise for your work.
Praise possesses excellent restorative properties.

— Patrick F. McManus
(and it helps inspire you to do even better WOWing ’em tomorrow, too!)

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