Pay Attention to the Small Things

Many of you have seen Admiral William McRaven’s 2014 commencement address at the University of Texas. In the speech he encourages the new grads to make their beds every morning. He reasons that it is the first step in gaining mastery over your day. It sets you up to complete the next task properly, and he points out, if your day is difficult, at least you come home to a made bed. The point is to pay attention to the small things and do them well. This is lacking in our short attention span world and it can affect your business.

The term “Breakpoint” is in current fashion among analysts of customer experience. Some companies are calculating the amount of discontent a consumer is willing to endure before fleeing to a competitor. That is a terrible way to run a business and it is typically employed by some of the companies we love to hate: banks, insurance, credit card vendors, and cable companies.

Last week, I attempted to conduct some personal business and was thwarted at every turn. I realized that in all three cases, the problem arose from someone failing to complete a task or failing to catch a mistake. Mistakes happen and good managers use these mistakes as teaching opportunities. It’s often difficult to take the time to coach an employee, but if your team isn’t doing it, you customers will notice.
In one situation, documents arrived in which the spelling of my name was incorrect. I always take time to spell out my last name as it’s commonly misspelled. The individual I spoke with was happy to correct the mistake. However, when I asked him if new documents could be rushed, he replied that it would take 14 business days. I queried him on why I was being penalized for an internal error, and he responded that it is policy. The last thing I want to hear in an employee customer exchange is citing policy as an excuse to provide poor service.

Another bright spot of the week was an attempt to pick up prescriptions at a pharmacy which were ordered online. I made 3 attempts by phone to confirm availability. I left one voicemail and was cut off twice. When I arrived at the business and identified myself, I was met by vacant looks. I explained that I had left a message asking for confirmation. One of the workers mentioned that they hadn’t cleared all the messages from the previous two days! Obviously, the ownership group of that pharmacy would be less than pleased with their employee’s performance.

If you are in a commodity business which comes down to price and availability, this may be less critical. If you, like the vast majority of CEO’s I work with want to differentiate your firm through superior service and quality, then client-focused training is crucial.
Business owners with whom I speak all express a sense of urgency driving their daily schedules. They describe the difficulty of taking their managers’ time to coach employees. In fact, taking this time is critical to the company’s mission. Those frontline employees are the face of your business to your customers. Make sure they’re positive, engaged, and customer friendly. Move them if they are not. Remember, make your bed; pay attention to the small things and do them well.