RSPA Recommended Read: Excellence Wins

“RSPA Recommended Read” is a series of articles in which RSPA staff members share details from books we think would be helpful to leaders and aspiring leaders at VAR, MSP, ISV, and vendor member organizations.

By: Jim Roddy, VP of Marketing & VAR/ISV Business Advisor at the RSPA

Over the past two years, I’ve listened to hundreds of podcast episodes, most of them floating into the ether after I move to the next one. But the HBR Ideacast episode Setting a High Bar for Your Customer Service from January 2020 still resonates with me. Halfway through listening to it, I emailed myself a link to the episode with a note saying “buy his book.”

The book is Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise, and the podcast guest was author Horst Schulze, the co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Allow me to share some of the most impactful quotes and concepts from the book before connecting these lessons to retail IT VARs and ISVs:

  1. Profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people so that they will take care of your customers.
  2. Analyze trends of dissatisfaction but also trends of demands — for example, “If you would add X or Y to your services, the (customer) would be much happier.”
  3. The people you serve want three main things: [1] They want a product or service or other output with no defects. Not just physical defects but also process or system defects. “Hey, I never got my receipt.” [2] The people we serve want timeliness. They don’t want to have to stand or sit around waiting for you. [3] They want the person with whom they’re dealing to be nice to them. This third desire is greater than the first two combined.
  4. Customer service is everybody’s job. Everyone, from the newest dishwasher on up, should know that their primary responsibility is to help keep the customer.
  5. To make customer service a reality, not just a label, we have to hire the right kind of people and orient them thoroughly at the start, and then we have to repeat our values again and again.
  6. Each time you get to the bottom of a defect, you improve your customer service while simultaneously lowering your cost over the long haul. It’s a win-win all around.
  7. A customer or client frustration can become an opportunity to create new loyalty. The customer goes away thinking, “They really heard me. They took care of my issue. They made amends. I trust those folks.”
  8. Each and every difficulty is an opportunity to advance the trust quotient or to squander it.

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  1. The challenge is to cast a vision and then invite other living, breathing human beings to join you in pursuing that vision. This is probably the most important strategy a leader can undertake.
  2. Even to get a good dishwasher, we had to interview at least 10 people on average before choosing the right one. But the reward came as we watched our employee turnover rate drop dramatically.
  3. If the culture of the organization isn’t right, it will devour your best-laid plans.
  4. Good leaders keep their eyes on the goal of having the finest experience in town. This requires asking employees to help find real answers for defects that show up.
  5. There is no business; there are only people. Business exists only among people and for people.
  6. Organizations that measure — and keep on measuring — find out their shortcomings.
  7. Results don’t come from hiding ourselves from reality. They emerge as we measure our realities and make adjustments, and then measure again and keep adjusting.
  8. In the long run, excellence is what secures your future.

RSPA Recommended Read Rating: 9.5/10

Keep in mind the aforementioned lessons from Excellence Wins as I share this brief story that combines a hotel, retail technology, and customer experience. In early August, my wife and I vacationed for four days in Las Vegas, staying at the Aria, one of the highest-rated hotels on the strip. We purchased the Aria’s $18 a day parking garage pass for our rental car, and upon check-in we were informed our room cards would enable us to enter and leave the garage hassle-free.

We entered/exited that garage at least 10 times, and the cards never worked as designed, despite our best efforts. To resolve the situation, I took our cards to the front desk where we received an apology from a staff member who then reprogrammed our cards. The next day I returned to the front desk where I was informed the cards were programmed incorrectly, so I was given new cards and instructed to use them solely for the parking garage (not for room entry). Still no dice. I considered making a third attempt, but the line at the front desk was longer than normal, so I went on about my day. Both times I talked with a front desk staff member they were pleasant, friendly, apologetic, and comped me a day for the garage, but that didn’t make the gate go up when we needed it.

This issue with the cards wasn’t unique to us. Every time we entered or exited the garage, at least one attendant was stationed there scrambling back-and-forth to help the line of customers navigate the supposed-to-be-unattended technology. “Swipe your card. Try it again. Let me call the front desk. What’s your name and room number? Okay, now you can go in.”

I’m not sharing this story so you feel sorry for me; this is a “first-world problem” if there ever was one. I share to ask: does this sound like a customer experience Schulze would describe as “excellent”? Despite a friendly staff, the Aria flunked several of his best practices:

  • The people you serve want a product or service with no defects. … They don’t want to have to stand or sit around waiting for you.
  • A customer frustration can become an opportunity to create new loyalty. The customer goes away thinking, “They really heard me. They took care of my issue. They made amends. I trust those folks.”
  • Each and every difficulty is an opportunity to advance the trust quotient or to squander it.

My wife and I enjoyed Vegas – next time you’re there, I implore you to drive an hour north to see the heavenly Red Rock Canyon – and we plan to return again, but do you think staying at the Aria is a slam dunk for us? The reason that’s in doubt is because of a technology integration fail.

That’s where you, the retail IT VAR/ISV comes in. You don’t provide just technology to your client. You provide excellence. Had someone like you capably installed and integrated the room card system with the parking garage system, I’d have to rack my brain to recall a meaningful flaw in the Aria’s service.

Your first step in providing excellence is having an excellence mindset, but the journey doesn’t stop there. As Schulze says, “Organizations that measure — and keep on measuring — find out their shortcomings.” A stellar example of a VAR who follows this principle is RSPA member Southwest Point of Sale, headquartered in San Diego. President Jeff Sanders is one of the high-initiative, growth-oriented resellers who works with the RSPA every year to conduct a Customer Health Checkup merchant survey.

After focusing on customer service for so many years, Southwest POS doesn’t have many shortcomings – but that doesn’t stop Sanders from looking. When he and I analyzed his last batch of absurdly positive survey results, he echoed the tagline in the AT&T commercials: “For us, just OK is not OK.”

Southwest POS even goes as far as sharing their survey results publicly with customers and prospects on its home page:

  • How responsive have we been to your questions and concerns? 4.9/5.0 stars (the industry average is 4.16)
  • How do you rate the value for money of our solutions/products? 4.6/5.0 stars (industry average: 3.81)
  • How likely are you to purchase any of our solutions/products again?  Very likely 91% (industry average: 58%)

If you want to achieve Schulze-like excellence both inside your organization and for your customers, you need to take tangible steps forward and constantly improve. Train your staff through RSPA Academy EXCELerate (an RSPA members-only benefit). Contact me to conduct your own Customer Health Checkup survey and to host a Customer Service Workshop for your team (both members-only benefits). Listen to podcasts like this episode of the RSPA Trusted Advisor to understand how your peers are winning and retaining more business

And be sure to purchase your copy of Excellence Wins so you can understand and embrace Schulze’s timeless philosophy: “An organization can’t please every human being every time. But it never hurts to try.”

Don’t forget to visit the RSPA Solution Center – a web platform designed to connect VARs and ISVs to providers of innovative solutions

Jim Roddy is the Vice President of Marketing and a Business Advisor for the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top 100 Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by 420MSP, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact