Consistency is Better than Brilliance but who Moved the Goal Posts?

When I arrived in Australia back in 1979, there was a really good milk bar in almost every neighbourhood. Most people had their favourites for lunch and frequently sales calls were planned so you would be in the right areas around lunchtime.

Back then, you expected to get in line and watch them make a sandwich for the person at the front. Then one for the next and finally, after the person in front of you was served, it was your turn to peer through the glass and choose. Then you would stand there and watch them make yours. The process was a lot like watching your mother make a sandwich. Same materials, same style. This was service in the 70’s.

The only problem was if you were in another area. It wasn’t easy to know if a shop would be all right. It might look good from the outside but what if it wasn’t very clean or friendly? So, we tried fast food. They might not be as good as our local shop but we knew they would be clean. It was the safe choice because it was predictable. Because they were consistent.

Now

So, in 2004 who sells the most hamburgers in the world? My audiences still say McDonald’s. There doesn’t seem to be any doubt about it at all. In fact, over 50 per cent of all Americans now live within three minutes of a McDonald’s. But when I ask for a show of hands from the people who think McDonald’s makes the best burger, I don’t see too many. Do you think the biggest burger business in the world is built on a brilliant product or a consistent level of service? And who changed the definition of service?

What happens today when you place your order in McDonald’s and the assistant says "That will be ready in 90 seconds." A significant number of people will change their order rather than wait. I have done it myself. It is not that we don’t believe it will be ready in 90 seconds. That’s probably spot on. But we just don’t want to wait. And it was McDonald’s that trained us to expect the food to be ready. I’ve noticed some people don’t even look up at the sign to order. They look at the shelf under the lights to see what is ready.

The Future

I read some time ago that McDonald’s in the UK introduced a new concept store called McDonald’s Express. It was not like the Australian or American express stores that just fit small locations. In the UK, a McDonald’s Express was built next to an existing McDonald’s Restaurant and it was aimed specifically at people who don’t have time for McDonald’s. Is the definition of service changing again?

Today, just giving predictable service is not enough. It has to be consistently good. And what it takes to qualify as good keeps changing. Don’t try to impress customers once and then expect them to settle for less in the future. Because every time someone does it a little bit better, that becomes the new standard.

A fax was a luxury until you got one. Then you would not consider giving it up. Now ask anyone on the net if they would give up e-mail and go back to just having a fax. Ask them what they think of a supplier who asks their customers to fax something rather than e-mailing it, just so they can have a "signature".

There are still many people who have never owned a garage door opener. But I defy you to find someone who owned one and then went back to getting in and out of their car. We just won’t go back to the old ways once we have enjoyed the new.

Convinced?

There is one more point. Double standards don’t work! In my experience when the boss expects the staff to change the way they treat customers, the best tool in their kit is the example they set. Given the choice between what you say and what you do, your example is always more persuasive.

So, if you do decide to start changing the way your people relate to clients, your attitudes and most importantly, the way you communicate with them, you are starting in the right place.

Now be honest. Are you setting the new standards of service in your industry or are you just relying on the quality of your burger?

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