With 2011 almost here, I have considered some of the challenges business leaders are likely to face in the coming year.   Some examples:  An economy slowly recovering from a recession; businesses that depend more on a growing work force of temps and contractors; and employees that may not be as engaged in their jobs as managers might like (see earlier post). 

Now more than ever, providing clients with top-notch customer service is a must.  With these and many other challenges ahead, business leaders will have to use innovation and smart management in order provide this high-quality service.

With this in mind, I thought now would be a great time to look back at history and a few businesses that  over the years have contributed creative ideas in customer service, gone against customer service practices of the times, or have just managed to give exceptional customer service.

1901– The first Nordstrom’s opened as a shoe store.  From the start they built a reputation for excellent customer service, which allowed them to quickly expand.  For years Nordstrom’s provided new employees with a handbook on a single 5×8 card, that was brief and included the words “Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”  This “employee handbook” placed value and emphasis on the employees’ ability to make the right decisions rather than the managers, which helped employees to go the extra mile when meeting customer’s needs.  They put the employee first.

1907– Amica Insurance started as a small auto insurance company by Adolph T. Vigneron, a businessman who foresaw the impact of the automobile (the Model-T began production in 1908).  One core principle that he embedded in the company’s culture was to show customers the utmost respect by treating them with the best possible customer service.  As the company has grown this principle has remained ingrained in the company’s culture.  Things like checking in on each customer they haven’t heard from after a bad storm has made clients feel more like valued family member.  Because of the company’s excellent customer service, they have always depended on word of mouth advertising.  In fact, this company’s growth has been based almost entirely of word of mouth.  It wasn’t until 1998 did they first advertise.

1922– Founded in 1922, Edward D. Jones son “Ted” Jones created an “individual branch network” system that quickly spread through rural communities.  This system involves small branches with only one broker in each office.  It allowed Edward Jones to open branches in towns where opening up a large financial advisor firm would be unprofitable.  This also enables these brokers in small intimate office settings to build close-knit relationships with clients.

1940– In 1948 the McDonald’s introduced the “Speedee Service System” which laid the foundation for modern fast food by streamlining the food preparation and serving.  In 1975 McDonald’s opened it’s  first drive thru.  McDonald’s has always been innovative in its efforts to get customers their food as fast as possible.

1967– Southwest Airlines is well-known for their efforts to promote communication among different groups of employees to offer better service to it’s customers. At the suggestion of an employee, the airline implemented a system that allowed for employees to use color-coded signals when they needed help from other employees at the gates.  This helped streamline the boarding process and it is an innovation that likely would not have happened without managers listening to employees.  Southwest is also notable in that it is the first major airline to create system of “ticketless travel” which allows you to swipe your credit card and get your ticket in a machine, as well as the first to create a website that allowed customers to learn more about Southwest’s services and routes.

1974 – Burger King’s successful based ad campaign around the slogan “have it your way.”  This was when fast food joints, like McDonald’s were approaching food in an assembly line that didn’t allow for people’s special requests.  Whether or not Burger King really did give a better kind of fast food service I don’t know.  But they launched a campaign that focused on the needs of customers, which affected the rest of the fast food industry and how they approached customer’s special requests.

There are probably lessons from the above stories to put to use in your business.  Think about it.  Best wishes for a prosperous and happy new year.


The Daniel Group

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