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The Role Of Vision In Togal Customer Service

Furniture World Magazine


More than just a sense of Goal, you need a sense of Vision!

Total customer service requires that an organization have more than a sense of goal. It requires that it have a sense of vision as well. The reason why organizations need to have a sense of vision is that total customer service is not a final destination. It is an endless journey.

It is an endless journey because of the endless moments of truth which everyone in the organization faces while working with buying customers. Building on Karl Albrecht's definition of a moment of truth, we might say that it is any contact someone in the organization has with a customer directly or indirectly, personally or impersonally, through which contact the customer is left with either a positive or a negative impression of the organization. While there is no possible method for an organization keep an accurate count of these countless moments of truth, one thing is absolutely certain. At the end of each day its reputation for customer service has either risen or it has fallen depending on how each moment of truth was handled.

On any given day, an organization's reputation for customer service either goes forward or it goes backward. Non progredi est regredi is a Latin motto which means "not to go forward is to go backward." That motto might well be the one each organization ought to adopt regarding the matter of customer service. We should add that nothing is more destructive to the concept of true customer service than an organization's conclusion that it needs to make no further progress in customer service because it has gone far enough.

On the day an organization arrives at that conclusion its customer service will begin to retrogress, slowly but surely, however imperceptibly at first. For while an organization is always justified in celebrating its progress in customer service, it is never justified in thinking that it has made so much progress that it can intentionally slow down the engine of its customer service. Non progredi est regredi.

Because total customer service is not a final destination, it has no arrival dates or datelines such as goals have. Someone once wrote that a goal is a dream with datelines. I believe that a vision is a dream without datelines. Unlike a goal, a vision does not need to be specific, it does not need to have all its i's dotted and all its t's crossed. In fact, the real power of a vision is that it cannot be specific. Its real power lies in its freedom to dream its unrestricted dreams. Thus a vision is less analytical and more synthetic since visions must remain alive and life can only exist in its synthesis. Despite its being less analytical, a vision tends to take us further than a goal, for visions have higher standards than goals. That may be what makes them impossible to arrive at in a final sense.

Napoleon must have had the distinction between goal and vision in mind when he remarked that those who know exactly where they are going never go very far. There is, I believe, something of "the best laid plans of mice and men" in Napoleon's remark. After all, goals too tend to be well laid plans.

Also,unlike goals, visions lack a blueprint. I find that to be true of Martin Luther King's visionary "I have a dream" speech, a speech that soared way beyond a sense of goal and into the realm of vision as the reverend King pounded each "I have a dream" off the anvil of the conscience of white America and onto the hopes of black America, his voice, accompanied by a face that shone like that of a Hebrew prophet, vibrating with the force of an African Djembe drum, the most powerful drum in the world. Clearly this visionary speech was free of datelines, for like all dreamers, the Reverend King knew that his people would always need to dream their dream of freedom since the greatness of every person's freedom lies not in having that freedom but in always having new dreams about how to live that freedom.

In his booklet, "Jade et les sacres mysteres de la vie," Francois Garagnon, speaking through the words of his ten year old heroine named Jade, states that we must learn to live out our dreams rather than to dream away our lives.

What I am questioning here is not the need for every business organization to have goals, but rather the futility of any organization's having goals without a vision. For while goals are helpful in bringing organizations what they need to have, that is, things like greater productivity and profitability, goals,without an accompanying vision, cannot guide organizations to become what they need to be. So too, being something visionary, total customer service is not a matter of having, but a matter of being. That is, of being the kind of organization in which, to quote Karl Albrecht, the guru of customer service, "the whole organization ought to be one big customer service department." In short, no organization can live its mission statement without a sense of vision, for every mission statement is by its very nature visionary. One and all in the organization must first see total customer service as a vision before it can become a company- wide culture based on a built-in way of doing business.

It's not that I don't buy into the need for every organization to have goals, a need implied in Yogi Berra's oft quoted quip that "If you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you get there." However, I believe we need to focus even more on the following question: "If you know where you are going and even manage to get there, what importance does that have if, after having managed to get there, you find that it has nothing to do with where you really need to be?" After all, simply getting there can be very misleading if "there" can be "anywhere." In that weirdest of books, "Alice in Wonderland," the heroine, finding herself lost, turns to the Cheshire Cat for direction. When the cat asks Alice where she is going, Alice admits she does not know. The cat then replies that Alice is sure to get there as long as she keeps on going. So too can any organization get "there" as long as "there" is synonymous with "anywhere."

Strange as this may sound to some owners and general managers, "anywhere" can also be an organization's goal of greater productivity and profitability, if that goal disregards the need for total customer service. For it is an illusion if organizations believe they can attain the highest possible productivity and profitability without buying into the concept of total customer service. In order to have that concept rightly in place, owners and all managers must buy into the paradoxical thesis that customers come second. In no other way can customers come first. Long before Hal F. Rosenbluth wrote his book, a part of whose title is "Customers Come Second," Karl Albrecht had already stated that no organization can hope to treat its buying customers better than how all those within an organization treat one another, but especially how owners and their managers treat everyone else in the organization.

Practically speaking, how does everyone else in the organization want to be treated? Several studies conducted in the 60's, the 80's and the 90's have revealed that more than wanting to attain higher salaries and job security, employees want to be appreciated for a job well done, to feel in on things, and to be listened to.

While none of these three things ought to cost an organization a single dime, failure to provide employees those three things can cost an organization a fortune. Now nothing lets everyone in an organization feel appreciated, feel in on things, and listened to as much as being properly credited for good work performance. Tom Peters wrote that one undeserved credit is one too many, but he adds that when crediting is deserved, the sky is the limit. Proper crediting calls for three elements if it is to be more than a pat on the back. First, it must include the specific performance that deserves to be credited. Second, it must include some quality in the performer that made the performance possible, such as perseverance, thoroughness, patience, precision, etc.. Third, it must mention the one or the ones who benefitted from the performance, such as a customer, a fellow worker, or the one giving the credit. Proper crediting should be the daily fuel that runs the engines of every organization.

At this point, let us add a word about the philosophy of win-win that every organization needs to live by if it is to succeed along its never ending journey of total customer service. The greatness of the philosophy of win-win is not in the fact that all sides win. Its greatness lies in the fact that all sides win at a much higher level than when each side goes it alone.

Finally, a few remarks about an organization's policies always needing to be customer friendly. One way to keep company policies friendly is to keep them from becoming procrustean. Procrustes, you may recall, was an inn keeper in Greek mythology who ran a strange motel. Any guest of his could stay at his motel for one night courtesy of the motel. There was one hitch, however. The guest had to sleep in the one bed the motel provided. If the guest was too tall for the bed, Procrustes lopped off any part of the guest's body that extended beyond the reach of the bed. If the guest was too short, his body was stretched until it reached both ends of the bed. There is no mythological record that attests to any guest staying longer than one night in that motel, which might rightfully have been named "Motel One." Certainly the only fortunate travelers were those who kept on going whenever they saw the light that Procrustes kept burning for them!

A good starting point for organizations to keep their policies customer friendly is to rethink their job descriptions. Too many job descriptions dwell exclusively on each job's role without pointing out that all a company's jobs taken together have a collective goal, namely, to provide the organization's customers not only with the best possible product but also with the best overall service at the point of shopping, at the point of purchase, and at each point of follow up. Woven into that collective goal should be the very fabric of total customer service. By weaving its common goal into the very fabric of total customer service, an organization should end up with its mission statement. Any mission statement which does not reflect the the heart and soul of total customer service is fated to fail.

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Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to him care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at pmarino@furninfo.com.