You Are the Leader – Customer Excellence Begins with You

Your organization is like an engine – and you are the switch that can ignite excellence.

leaderIn today’s competitive marketplace, extending excellent customer service is essential to the survival of any business. I hope by now most of us understand the importance of taking care of the customer and exceeding their expectations.

If some of you are like me, you spent your leisure time reading books like “Raving Fans” by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, or “In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters. I read these books and took them as gospel because they offer sound principles for creating a vision of what excellent customer service should look like.

I truly believe that these books and a few others really help us to delve into the principles for taking care of the people and maintain our customer’s loyalty.

We have great examples of companies that live by the customer loyalty principle by constantly striving to be on the cutting edge of services and products. Such companies that come to mind are Starbucks, Nordstrom, The Four Seasons, and Virgin Atlantic. These are companies who set the mark for creative and enlightened organizations that are always finding ways to make the customer say “wow”. Consumers brag to others about the services they receive at these customer centered organizations and therefore create a word of mouth buzz that creates exponential growth and success.

As managers you have probably tried to instil certain campaigns or slogans at your company. You made sure your employees understood and practiced the following procedures:

  • Greeting the guest with a smile and a salutation.
  • Looking for the “moment of truth”, the opportunity to make an impression on your customer with each interaction.
  • Soliciting feedback from the guest or customer.
  • Employee empowerment.
  • Taking care of the “internal customer” (teamwork)

The list goes on, but in our organizations we have all tried to instil the above initiatives at one time or another. If your organization is a progressive one, then many of the above initiatives are common practice and part of the expected norm. By the way, have you ever walked into one of the large video store franchises? You walk through the familiar doors in search of the newest “Rambo” movie on the way you plan to drop off your last rental – “P.S. – I love You” (My wife made my rent). As you walk in the door, you are hit with “hello” from two or three employees. Rather than be impressed by their great service you are actually annoyed by their forced salutation. They are not sincere and it shows. Some executive at that company decided long ago that all of the video store employees will greet the guest as they walk in the door despite if the employee is across the room or not. Forget about greeting me from across the room as I walk in the door. Instead, try not to ignore me the rest of the time I am in the store. Say “Hello” to me when we are face to face or passing in the aisles. Give me an opinion about a movie that I should see or ask me if I found everything ok. The point is that when something seems scripted or forced then it is not going to work on the customer, instead it will cheapen the customer experience. “Do you want to supersize that?”

Ok! We all know the importance of customer loyalty because it costs less to get a customer to come back then to create a new one. We all know that the customer is king because they pay our bills and pay checks. We all know that our employees have to be friendly and have good attitudes or the customers won’t come back. We all know that an unsatisfied customer will tell far more people than a happy customer. So how do we make our employees follow these initiatives and constantly work toward improving their services? It is easy. You, be a good leader. Huh? “No, it’s the employees fault.” “It’s hard to find good people now.” I say B.S. (Bogus Sandwich).

Some of us know that the philosophy of customer loyalty and constant improvement were studied, researched and taught by the American statistician, Dr W Edwards Deming. His teachings have been carried out by such companies as Sony, Fuji, Toyota, Honda and a multitude of others. In fact every year Japan still honours the most innovative or successful company with the Deming Award. Deming’s teachings were so simple yet they are still some of the most powerful management philosophies today which Deming referred to as “profound knowledge”. Some of the points from his 14 point list from his book “Out of the Crisis” are:

  • Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.
  • Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs
  • Institute training on the job
  • Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of an overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers
  • Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
  • Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
  • Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement
  • Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

As you can see, the father of quality and improvement says that quality begins in the boardroom with the leaders and managers. This especially counts for service companies. Leaders, owners, and manager make the rules and the procedures. They can create the empowerment in the employee or tie their hands and have them afraid to make a decision. They are the ones that decide how much should be spent on training and what objectives are important. The owners are the ones that decide if they are going to share part of the profits with the employee and make them feel like part of the company.

The leaders and owners are the ones that decide how they are going to treat the employees on their interactions. Are they going to set goals and work toward helping the employee to achieve the goal or are they going to leave them alone and just dump all over them when the employee does something wrong? The leaders decide if an employee’s or customer’s idea will be implemented or not. So you can keep blaming the line employee for the bad customer service or you can take a deep look at the root cause of it all, leadership and owners.

We want our people to treat our customers with warmth and respect. How do we treat our people? We want our people to constantly improve their work standards and output. Do we provide the on-going training and listen to their feedback? We want our people to be able to serve the customer to the fullest without making them wait and go through hoops. Are they afraid to try anything without your approval because they know if they screw up you will be all over them? Look at yourself and see.

Your store, restaurant, factory or office is like an engine. Then you the leader are the ignition switch. Your people are the spark plugs, pistons and other moving parts of the engine. If the spark (behaviour) you provide is weak or surges then the engine will sputter. Without the oil (training, goals, feedback, and support), then the engine will quickly burn and seize up. The parts of the engine all have their function but without the spark, the engine will never run. Now go take a look at yourself, your other managers and the system itself. Can you improve something to ignite maximum performance from your employees and create customer loyalty? Always!


Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service by Ken Blanchard, Sheldon Bowles, Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers. Date: 1993.

Out of Crisis: Dr W Edwards Deming, 1982 & 1986, Out of the crisis: quality, productivity and competitive position, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

In Search of Excellence: by Thomas J. Peters, Tom Peters 2004 – Business & Economics Harper Business Essentials.

About the Author

Donn Kirst is a customer loyalty and leadership trainer. Donn has spent the past many years of his life studying from the masters of personal development, leadership, and customer loyalty. In addition he loves to learn from hospitality organizations that “wow” the customers. He currently works and trains with some of the most prestigious customer service orientated service businesses in the world. The mission of his training organization is to help transform businesses through helping to shift the way people think, believe, and act.

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