How important are the little things in business? Well, according to a friend of mine who recently spelled things out for me, they mean a great deal. My friend is part of a committee at a prestigious private athletic club in the heart of downtown Chicago. The purpose of the committee is to put together a strategic plan to help the club reclaim some of its lost luster. New members have not been flocking to the club recently and longtime members seem to be a little restless.
So the committee was formed to develop some sort of consensus on how things could be made better and devise a strategic plan to position the club for long-term success. Because a couple of members were in marketing, they persuaded the other members that some research should be done to find out exactly how members felt about their club and what their priorities were. (I am always surprised at how many organizations fail to survey their customers, as if not knowing what they think about the organization is a virtue.)
An outside research firm was hired and a questionnaire went out. The answers, however, weren't what the committee expected. Members were not necessarily concerned about updating the club facilities such as the swimming pool, gymnasium and weight room. They felt that those facilities were adequate. Instead, they were upset about some services they thought they should be able to take for granted.
For example, the men's locker room was cleaned regularly and was generally OK but over the years some of the shower heads were in disrepair and needed replacing. Everybody knew about it, but nothing had been done until recently, when new shower heads were installed.
In the pool area, the research showed most members were quite satisfied overall-they felt it was the little things that weren't taken care of properly. The towel supply sometimes was depleted, so when a member came out of the pool there was no towel available to dry off. Pretty simple, right? There were a number of little problems of that nature.
What the research told the special committee was that the club didn't need to rush out and spend millions of dollars for a new pool, new equipment or new decor in the dining room, it needed the staff to pay attention to the basics of service.
Too often we think that something new is exactly what is needed. A new table, new desks, an addition or even a new building will make everything easier, more attractive, more modern and more functional, or so we think. The trouble is, those who use these facilities, such as employees and visitors, may not want or need a new facility. What they may need is someone to pay attention to the details.
It's almost un-American to think this way, but look at it like this: Why is it that so many of us enjoy old traditions and savor old haunts? They aren't modern and new, but they have character. The same is true of new cars. The newness, the technology, the styling and even the smell seduce us. Driving a fancy new car tells us that we are successful. But the old car gets us there just as efficiently and at lower cost (and probably with better gas mileage) than the new model. In the end, the new car doesn't really change anything.
I'm always surprised when I see new hospitals being built all over the country when the old facilities would be quite adequate if fixed up and run properly. I know that many hospitals are bursting at the seams, but what ever happened to additions and renovations? Often we can improve these older facilities while spending less money overall. In the meantime, we can make sure the services provided in the old facility are the best available. When people are well taken care of, they don't spend time looking to see if the walls are new.
When a sports team is preparing for something such as the Super Bowl, coaches always say, "If we pay attention to the fundamentals, we will win." In business these basics are too often ignored. In sales it's the details that often make the difference in a customer relationship. People forget that a simple "hello" can sometimes be the difference between a good day or a bad day. A kiss can make a difference too. A kiss can make a relationship, while the lack of one can destroy something of value.
A meeting room isn't cleaned properly and a client is less than impressed. The coffee isn't fresh, so the guest feels slighted. A patient is left waiting too long in a hot or cold examining room wearing only a hospital gown. A billing mistake costs everyone time and effort to fix.
Maybe paying attention to the little things could save thousands or even millions of dollars that might otherwise be wasted on a new building, where if someone isn't paying attention, the service won't be any better than at the old facility.
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Chicago, Ill. 60601-3806
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com.