Are You Excellent?

November 8, 2007 at 7:57 am | Posted in Customer Service | Leave a comment

We’ve heard the phrase “go to the next level” many times. Millions of times. But what does it really mean!?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and thanks to an early morning, remarkably BAD customer service experience at a very well-known fast food chain (I won’t mention their name, but will say that I wasn’t Lovin’ anything), here’s my current understanding: it means going beyond the average limits of your current activity.

First let me tell you about my customer service experience, and then I’ll try and explain what I mean. Just bear with me a few moments longer…

Let’s start at the basics and work our way deeper. Walking into a fast food restaurant (for lack of a better term) and ordering a coffee should be one of life’s easiest accomplishments for everyone involved. I go: can I please have a medium black coffee. The employee listening to me says: yes. Then he or she gets me a coffee, takes my money, gives me my change, and that’s pretty much it. Along the way, a smile or a friendly tone are appreciated, but not mandatory. I know I’m not at the Four Seasons.

I did my part. I asked for a coffee (and I even said “may I” and “please” which, too, are both optional). The employee on the receiving end of this stunningly simple request had problems. Not comprehension problems, but attitude problems. Evidently, taking food orders and seeing them through to completion was just not part of her world view; it was beneath her, as was the person behind all of this: me. That’s why she didn’t stop blabbering to her colleague about her Christmas plans as she wandered over and half-filled my cup, why she stuck her hand open and waited for me to give her money, and why she tossed (i’m not kidding) my change on the counter and said, as I stared confusedly at her, “that’s it.”

“It” was, apparently, the point of me being there. And along with the “That”, it meant that I should get the hell out of the way and let her have at the next contestant on “Let’s Not Make a Deal.”

All of this took about a minute, but it was such CONCENTRATED CONTEMPT that it really made me think; it kind of shocked me, in a way. I’m not fragile and bad customer service doesn’t phase me (it disappoints me, yes, but doesn’t rock me) — but I guess because I have this blog in my mind, and I’m always looking for things to share, this particular experience hit me deeper than it usually would.

And then it clicked. The whole concept of “getting to the next level” clicked.

Here’s what I discovered: your job is made up of activities. If you fly a plane or serve coffee beneath the golden arches (*cough*), your “job” is the totality of a variety of activities. Naturally, those activities range in complexity and importance. But the lowest common denominator in all jobs is that they are made up of activities.

Each one of those activities can be done with care and attention, or it can be done with indifference and — as was my experience — contempt. Or, we could simply say that those activities can be done in one of three ways:

1. Excellently

2. Average

3. Not at all

Now, let’s get rid of #3 right away. If you do your job “not at all” you’ll lose it. So that leaves: Excellently, and Average.

It’s important to note the difference between these two terms. “Excellently” is a value judgement; it’s not something that is completely objective. There may be “standards of excellence” for your job, but realistically, it’s up to YOU to decide what is excellent and what isn’t. “Average” is NOT a value judgement; it’s simply, well, average. It’s “doing what everyone else is doing” or, more often, “doing what you can get away with and still, technically, be doing the job.”

Here’s the moral to this story: people who succeed take the activities in their job, and perform them at the excellent level; they actively go above the average level.

The girl (and she was a girl — in her teens, so she has time to hopefully learn this) had discovered, probably through trial and error or just instinct, that she could perform the activities in her job at an average level. The job activity said: take money from customer, and she took it. The job activity said: make change, and she made change. She did these at average — or mediocre levels — even, but she’s still employed and probably will be next month, which means that she’s doing things on the ‘average’ level. That whole restaurant may have lousy customer service. That’s the average. She’s at the average.

And she’ll always BE at the average unless she ACTIVELY rises above it and reaches for excellence. Not in the “totality” of her job, because there really is no such thing. Only in the small, ordinary, regular activities of her job — taking money, getting coffee, making change — can she actually ACHIEVE excellence.

When you add up all of those excellent activities, you get to the next level. You can’t wait for the next level to “show up” and to start performing at it. YOU are the level in which you perform.

Are you excellent?

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