Editorial: The Little things

The Little Things

How often have you heard that when you do the little things well, the big things take care of themselves?

The small things differentiate leading companies from also-rans. They are the difference between exceptional people and those you pass without a second glance. They are the cutting edge products and services versus those that are ‘me too’. They set apart the organizations that are great to work for, from those that provide jobs.

We find examples of these little things every day, as we interact with people and operations. When we examine mission critical operations within the organization, we quickly see the impact of the “little things”.

I’m amazed at how frequently poor customer service can quickly undo the efforts of the best sales force in the world. Often, the first and last impression left on your clients is that provided by your customer service representatives. Can you afford for one of them to have a “bad” or “off” day? How they answer the phone is just as important as the niceties like please and thank you. When the customer service attitude is that they’re doing you a favor by responding and answering, the reality is that the client is doing them a service by using them as a supplier. All too often this is forgotten. And it’s also useful to remember that if you don’t serve clients well, someone else will.

How many times have you gotten off the phone and realized, “I should have done or said this”? or “I really missed that opportunity”. Many individuals within the organization don’t realize and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to them every day. A marketing person may have a conversation with a potential sales prospect and not realize the missed opportunity or a service representative may uncover a possible new lead or opportunity and not even realize it or have interest.

There are really two issues here, the first, tunnel vision on the part of the employee, so focused on the job description that they’re not thinking laterally and recognizing the opportunity. Secondly, individuals may not understand and appreciate the company strategy and objectives and literally wouldn’t recognize a business opportunity if they tripped over it.

When you combine these situations with the “bad rap” and fear of the sales function, it’s no wonder that many opportunities are lost. Although we have all met some of those salespeople who are not trustworthy and who are after that one time sale, and although many of us have suffered from ‘buyers remorse’, regretting a purchase immediately after we’ve made it, sales at its finest is essentially need fulfillment and a very logical extension to customer service which is also need fulfillment. Getting this message across to new customer service and sales people is often the manager’s toughest task.

So how do you combat these missed opportunities and lack of awareness in the organization?

Incentive programs, lead generation and tracking protocols and communication and teambuilding programs all help as does an empowered environment. Establishing a connection between service and sales inevitably helps, and the reverse is true too. When your sales force understands and assists in service related issues it deepens client relationships, encourages communication and provides immediate up-sell opportunities. Big corporations with huge walls between service and sales can lose touch with client needs and issues and appear non-responsive.

People who sell by servicing or who can transition between service and sales are invaluable. These impact players don’t just do their jobs, they think while doing their jobs and your clients recognize and appreciate it. Often though, organizations don’t recognize the value they have in these employees.

There are many little things that make a difference between success and failure and marginal success and huge windfall. From a management perspective, recognizing the importance of these little things is critical and eventually leads to higher awareness on the part of staff. As with many things, it has to start at the top. For instance, if you’ve just finished a conversation with a potential client and he’s waiting for your information, the difference in impact of his receiving the information within minutes or hours by e-mail, next day by courier or sometime next week by general mail with an impersonal letter can be significant. There are of course, other considerations, (cost and return being a few) but exceeding expectation by just a bit can have awesome rewards. (One of my mentors showed me this by typing out an agreement and driving to the courier depot minutes after getting off the phone with a potential client. Five years and several million dollars later, my mentor’s company and his client have both developed into successful international organizations, and it all started by exceeding those initial expectations. That contract and courier could have waited, but it didn’t and the initial deal was signed 15 hours later.)

A customer service or sales representative who follows up on the client experience is another example. When used judiciously, this can be an excellent clue to determine what the organization is doing well and poorly. It can stave off embarrassment, generate valuable feedback, lead to new business opportunities and generally strengthen relationships. In these competitive times, any advantage needs to be pursued and any opportunity to strengthen and deepen relationships with client organizations is invaluable.

It takes a lot of energy to keep on doing the little things. Frequently the rewards are not apparent; sometimes they take years to become tangible. Management is responsible for creating an environment that makes it more rewarding, and this includes motivation, commitment and satisfaction. Too often, employees are left to fend for themselves as management gets caught up in analyzing sales and financial reports—the results but not the process.

So take care of the little things. Share your thoughts in the NPIcenter Discussion Forum

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