A Pox on (Most of) Their Houses

In the last 20+ years I’d bet I’ve gotten 500 “customer service” books for endorsement. Some provide incredibly sophisticated analysis. Others offer literally 100 case studies from prestigious firms. They are, obviously, good, bad, and indifferent. But I’ve reached the conclusion that I’ll never endorse another customer service book unless it’s short, illustrated, funny and the product of the “mundane” “real world”—i.e., focused on real people at the front line of ordinary businesses like the one next door.

Consider three I resurrected while reorganizing books as part of my summer tasks. Secret Service: Hidden Systems that Deliver Unforgettable Service. The author, whom I’ve met, is John DiJulius. He comes from Ohio and is chief of John Robert’s Hair Studio & Spa. Trust me, any IBMer could learn the magic of surpassing customer service from John! Then there’s (hey, what’s going on here?) The Fantastic Hairdresser, by former London hairdresser Alan Austin-Smith. Again, the messages are clear and useful—and in hard practice transformative. The third is Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service by Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig. Zingerman’s is a matchless Ann Arbor, MI, deli with the following mission statement: “We share the Zingerman’s experience selling food that makes you happy, giving service that makes you smile—in passionate pursuit of our mission, showing love and caring in all our actions to enrich as many lives as we possibly can.” Don’t you wish your bank or phone company or car dealer would live by (or even vaguely imagine living by) such a Credo?

All this is perhaps a long-winded way, not of recommending books, but of suggesting that we “sophisticates” (including in the “professional services,” Accenture flavor) could probably learn more about the consistent provision of scintillating/memorable customer experiences from a great deli or hair dresser in our town of 2,000 or 2,000,000 than from a learned treatise from the “marketing department” at Harvard or Stanford. (Notice I didn’t say “customer service” or “customer experience” department—there are no such things, as far as I know, in B-schools. Heaven forbid!)

(NB: Did I tell you about the lovely chat I had with a United Airlines employee about her successful career in Operations? She and I concluded that our separate but mutual successes were as much the product of the years we spent waiting table—8 years, off and on, in my case, 4 years in hers—as the hours we spent taking courses. In fact we decided—for what little it’s worth—that no one should be allowed to hold a senior management position unless he/she had been a waiter for a couple of years. What do you think?)