Service Leadership in a Floodlight


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The new billboard proclaimed the El Casa de Adjetivo on 2nd Street as having the best Mexican food in the area. We had driven by this restaurant many times but never given it a try. We are major fans of great Mexican food—not the fast food type, but the kind that tastes imported directly from Monterrey. So, into the restaurant we went. The ambiance was nice; real Mexican music was playing in the background. Our waitress greeted us with menus, chips and salsa plus a warm welcome.

However, the positive experience ended almost as soon as it began. My wife ordered a glass of Chablis. When the waitress brought Chardonnay and my wife complained, the friendly retort was, “Sorry, I picked up the wrong bottle.” We both ordered extra beans but no rice; we both got rice. My wife had to ask three times for a glass of ice. I ordered a side of fresh cut, raw, super-hot jalapenos, not the pickled ones with low heat. You can guess at this point what I was served.

When we paid our bill at the cash register we asked why the service had so many mistakes. “Oh, we have a new owner,” said the cashier as he handed us our receipt. “And, he is all about what happens in the kitchen.”

How was our food? Great! But, the service experience? Terrible! Their billboard was completely accurate. But, leadership completely missed the point that most service outcomes (e.g., the food) are enveloped in a service experience. If asked by a neighbor if the restaurant should be on their “must do” list, we would suggest take out!

The focus of leadership telegraphs priority to employees. The leader who stresses over budget minutia, the one who ballyhoos sales no matter what, and the one who insists on operational efficiency all send a laser like message about where to put attention. They provide the default for all “too close to call” decisions. The adage “It’s not what’s expected; it’s is what is inspected” says much about significance?

Where is Tony Hsieh of Zappo’s, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Simon Cooper of Ritz-Carlton Hotels, or Josue Robles of USAA? Probably not always stuck in countless meetings. Author Tex Bender wrote, “You can pretend to care but you can’t pretend to be there.” What is the presence of your customers in your decision making, process alignment, product design, and resource allocation? Do you wear the customer’s hat in every meeting? Are customers invited to provide up-to-date customer intelligence, not just incident critiques?

As a leader, you walk in a floodlight. Employees don’t watch your mouth; they observe your moves. And, they make their priority calls based on observation, not on conversation. What you get anger about, passionate about, pound the table over, spend air time in meetings about tells the tale about priority? Is your focus sending the very best message to your front line about what really matters?

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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