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HPMD Bullets


The following is a short talk given to a customer service department concerned about how they fit into the organization. It provides a simple message about the key role service plays in business for success.

Philosophers usually start out any discourse with some big-picture, ultimate questions, and then proceed to define terms. I thought I'd take that approach for our topic today.

The fundamental question is why are we in business? I've heard this answered a number of ways. A former manager of mine told new MBA graduates who he interviewed, that we're here to make revenues grow. A business author says that the purpose of business, like any organization, is to give people lives. Still others, in the spirit of American capitalism at its finest, will argue that a company is in business to make money.

I see a business in terms of two dimensions: (1) to serve a need, and (2) to make a profit. If a business lacks one or both of these, it will ultimately fail. No matter how well a company serves a need, if it doesn't make a profit, soon it will likely be filing for chapter 11 protection. But also, a business that fails to serve a need will certainly lose its patrons, and likely its employees. Serving needs, like profitability, is fundamental to a successful business.

So what's "service?" Webster's offers a dozen or more definitions. The one I think best applies is "an act of assistance or benefit." It means helping someone in a way that's valuable to them. This is the service a good business provides.

Though most obvious, a business does not merely serve its customers. Service also occurs in three other important directions. We each work for a supervisor or manager who has expectations that we must meet. This is service in the "upward" direction. As managers, supervisors, and more senior staff people, we provide coaching, training and feedback to more junior employees. This is "downward" service. We also work with peers in our own department and with other departments. This makes up the "sidewards" service avenue. This last service direction is the glue of the teamwork which is so highly valued in our group. It's the two-way street of giving help and accepting help to get the job done. I'd even argue that it's not service if you can't do both.

So I see service as a key ingredient in making companies go. But what about the better companies? What is the recipe for a successful company? Tom Peters, after boiling down the findings of the landmark study behind In Search Of Excellence, says that two things are key: (1) constant innovation, and (2) undying service to the customer. One of the two critical success factors ends up being what we as a department are charged with providing: Service!

In short, what we do in Client Services is real important to the health of our business. Each month our subscribers make a decision whether to continue using our products. That decision will be influenced by the quality of our goods and the service we back it up with. Without it, we fail. If we do it well, we just may grow more than we'd even guess.

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