Organizations get the customers they deserve. Customers get the service they deserve. It’s a two-way street paved with respect. When organizations and their customers are aligned on service expectations and treating each other with respect, things go well. When they are misaligned, things turn out less well.

Hubbard Heights

I play golf frequently at the municipal golf course at the bottom of our hill. No one pretends this course is anything but what it is. There’s no fancy clubhouse. No caddies. No driving range. E. Gaynor Brennan or “Hubbard Heights” is a relatively short, hilly course open to anyone that wants to play.

I know the vast majority of people working at the course from the superintendent to starters to rangers to pros to the magicians that keep this high-volume course in astounding shape. Sometimes they serve me as a customer. Sometimes we’re playing golf together.

It doesn’t matter. We’re always just people playing a particular role at a particular time. Like the Ritz -Carleton wants its people to think of themselves as “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,” these people, including the three handsome devils pictured above, see themselves as “People serving people.”

When it works, we treat each other with respect. I greatly benefit from their work managing the flow of people and maintaining the course. When I can’t do exactly what I want because of frost, lightening or other impediments, they’re not out to get me. They’re doing their job. I never hit into those maintaining the course. Never. I wait for them to see me and wave me up so I know they are safe. They get that, and greet me as another human being.

When things go wrong, it’s inevitably because someone thinks they deserve something special whether that’s teeing off late, playing through slower players or those maintaining the course, not taking care of the course, littering or not treating others or the course with respect. (Did I mention it’s a public course open to anyone? The existence of slower players should not be a surprise.)

Every business is a service business

Whether your focus is design, production, distribution or service, service has to be a component of what you do. That’s not up for debate. What is up for debate is what’s the right level of service for your organization.

People taking a bus expect bus-like service – which is dramatically different than what they expect from their own full-time private driver. People paying $20 for a bed in a hostel expect a different level of service than those staying at a Ritz.

It comes down to aligning expectations. Those opting for buses or hostels can expect superior service. Private drivers and the ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz, can’t treat their customers like they’re riding a bus or staying in a hostel.

In all cases, treating each other with respect costs nothing and makes things better.


Implications for you

  1. Start by getting clear on the core nature of your business – design, production, delivery, service.
  2. Make the choice around where you choose to be superior, parity or just good enough.
  3. Inspire, enable and empower your people to deliver the appropriate level of service in line with that.
  4. Acquire and nurture customers that will be satisfied with that level of service – treating them with respect at every step of the way.
  5. If your people don’t treat customers with the appropriate level of respect, fire them publicly so everyone else knows how you feel.
  6. If your customers don’t treat your people with the appropriate level of respect, fire them publicly so everyone knows it’s a two-way street.


Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #735) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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