Soft is hard


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800px-SmashBurger_logoI’ve been a Tom Peters fan since being introduced to his teachings in my first management role at Marriott International more than 20 years ago. Frequently contrarian and counter-intuitive, Peters often says: “Soft is hard and hard is soft.”

This applies to “soft skills” such as listening or customer service that are often discounted as less important than “hard skills” like budgeting and other technical, job-specific skills.

Last night I attended the “soft opening” of a local Smashburger fast-casual restaurant. In the restaurant world, a soft opening refers to the discrete initial opening of the store (usually for employees’ friends, family, and invited guests) in the days preceding the grand opening – which is promoted and open to the general public.

As my family and I placed our orders, retrieved our soft drinks, and seated ourselves, I observed an enthusiastic workforce made up of newly-hired employees and seasoned Smashburger veterans – all working together to iron out the wrinkles ahead of the grand opening on April 23rd.

About this time, I was reminded of Peters’ quote and thought to myself, “This soft opening is hard work!” and I reflected on the equal importance of both soft skills (e.g., eye contact, smiling, energy in one’s voice, etc.) and hard skills (e.g., menu knowledge, operating the register, preparing a Spicy Jalapeño Baja hamburger to standard, etc.).

Think about it: If I had been greeted by an energetic employee and made to feel welcome but my burger was undercooked, I would be less likely to return. Likewise, if my burger was prepared perfectly but I felt like an interruption while placing my order, I may not return. It’s critical that employees do both: execute job function (hard skills) AND demonstrate job essence (soft skills).

Soft openings are hard work. Harder still are routine, everyday openings where customers are more demanding and less tolerant of mistakes. The way to win during these day-to-day encounters with customers is for managers to recognize that “soft is hard ” and constantly reinforce the totality of every employee’s job role, which consists of BOTH job function AND job essence.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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