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Edior's Preface; Author's Preface

Editor’s Preface

Author’s Preface


Editor’s Preface

To maintain their readership, newspapers and magazines have had to repeatedly reinvent themselves—first to combat television’s sound and light, later to do battle against sound bites, and now to meet the challenge of on-line delivery and Internet information exchange.

Blessedly, books have managed to stay above the fray. Until now. The sheer mass of information available in multiple media demands that publishers take a serious look at the needs of their readers and assess how to be of service. The market is flooded with management books and portable guides to core business school curricula. Although these works offer valuable information, the problem is finding the time to wade through these erudite and often lengthy offerings.

The Warren Bennis Executive Briefing Series is unique Marshall McLuhan’s insight from three decades ago, “the medium is the mes­sage,” possesses even more validity in today’s harried world. To enhance ease and speed of content assimilation, the series makes ample use of pull quotes, bulleted lists of key points, highlighted fads, and crisp graphics. Each book presents information from renowned business leaders in the most cogent fashion, while keeping length to a minimum. Our service to you is to enable you to read and master the book’s topic in one sitting. Thus, it is fitting that the first book in our series is about service.

Fabled Service is not about making customers feel good. Neither is it a one-size-fits-all prescription for customer service. More and more of your transactions are impersonal, between you and a machine. You deal with voice mail, E-mail, ATMs, and other state-of-the-art inter­faces. So who cares about customer service anymore? You do.

Who warrants your business? Who do you recommend to family and friends? Whenever you talk about great service received, the subtext is individual worth. In other words, the organization delivered great service because it recognized your significance and dignity. The simple act of recognizing the primacy of the customer is a key to fabled service. Fabled service is about making an honest commitment to meeting customers’ real needs and to winning their business. No matter how good your organization’s service, there is no staying in place. Fabled service requires constant renewal and attention. Betsy’s personal anecdotes, culled from years of service with a famous retailer and encounters with service legends, entertain and elucidate the key commitments required from a leader when the goal is fabled service.

Warren Bennis

Santa Monica, CA, 1995



Author’s Preface

What would drive an otherwise sane person to write a book about customer service? Certainly no subject has received more attention or consumed more print in the past ten years or so. Yet, reflect on the quality of service you tolerate as a customer, client, patient, buyer, user, lessee, passenger...wherever you find yourself as a patron. Reflect on what it is like to be a customer in your own organization. Reflect on the frustration you feel as you find yourself unable to drive to realization your vision of delighting your customers because you cannot seem to infect others with that vision.

However, it can be so much better. It was my great good fortune to participate for a large part of my life in leading within an organiza­tion that is rightly fabled for its service. I came by that opportunity fortuitously, as I was unable to land a teaching job in Seattle in 1971. Economic conditions were so dire that a billboard adjacent to a major freeway exiting the city plaintively requested: “Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights?”

Desperate for work, I ignored all of my education and goals to date to gratefully accept a temporary job at Nordstrom, derking for $2.46 an hour. That stop-gap job turned into an almost two decade career that allowed me to work with ever-larger groups of people taking care of growing numbers of customers. In 1990, when I retired as the leader of the Southern California division, Nordstrom and I had reached a milestone together: Some eleven thousand “Nordies” were delighting customers in that region at the level of one billion dollars in annual sales.

That story is an exciting one, but this book is not about Nord­strom or about retailing in general. It is about why this company and others like it have so passionately focused all of their resources on their customers. It is about how they have engaged ordinary people, people like me, in making their dreams for their business a reality. It is about what degree of dedication to their satisfaction is required for custom-em to make your company fabled for service.

In short, this book is about leadership. In my time with Nord­strom and in the multitude of experiences I have since enjoyed with companies from the largest conglomerate to the smallest start-up, I am convinced of one thing: Fabled service is always the product of impas­sioned leadership. The leadership of fabled service summons forth all our talents and energies, as well as our focused intent to excel. At the same time, it brings about a transformation, both in us personally and in the people we lead. It is at once profoundly demanding and pro­foundly rewarding.

Examining the real-life practice of service leadership does not provide a template for you to apply to your actions or to overlay on your organization. The specifics of what you do to maximize your opportunities for authentic service eminence are unique to you, to the rich resources at your disposal, and to the challenges you face. There is no template, but there are some very definite footsteps you can follow to widen your own path to the customer. In taking a detailed look at the fundamentals of service leadership, I hope to convey to you a sense of your tremendous potential to make a material difference, a difference so distinct that your leadership will extend far beyond your own company or organization.

I wrote this book to share with you an ideal, as well as some very practical considerations in reaching that ideal. In turn, I look forward to learning from you through your customers’ enthusiastic retelling of the fables your service leadership engenders.

Betsy Sanders


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