Unique knowledge separates the best from the good

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Voltaire, the 18th-century French philosopher, said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” I love this quote because, to me, it highlights the distinction between extraordinary and ordinary, excellence and mediocrity, and exceptional and average customer service.

Earlier this year, I attended a conference at the InterContinental Hotel in the Buckhead district of Atlanta. The lobby bar, aptly named Boubon Bar, stocks 70 hand-selected craft bourbons. It was there I learned from the bartender that the Manhattan cocktail is traditionally made with rye whiskey and stirred rather than shaken.

Some time afterward, I came across an article that listed other interesting facts about bourbon and learned:

  • Bourbon distillers can only use their barrels once. Although barrels are reused to age other non-bourbon whiskies, they cannot be reused to age bourbon.
  • The official mint julep of the Kentucky Derby is not made with bourbon. It’s made with Early Times whiskey. Because Early Times is aged in second-hand barrels passed down from the Old Forester bourbon distillery, it’s not actually bourbon.
  • During World War II, bourbon distilleries were converted to make penicillin. Shut down during prohibition from 1920 to 1933, with the onset of WWII, bourbon distilleries were repurposed to manufacture penicillin.

It occurred to me that this is the sort of novel information that an exceptional bartender – particularly at Bourbon Bar – should possess. I refer to these facts as unique knowledge.

Unique knowledge is not the same as job knowledge. Job knowledge is necessary for an employee to be proficient in his job role. It is expected by the customer and, generally speaking, is transactional. The making of a Manhattan by following a standard cocktail recipe demonstrates job knowledge. The bartender has simply executed a mandatory job function (the making of a cocktail) by adhering to established protocol (following an approved recipe, using the appropriate barware, ringing up the drink, etc.). And there are plenty of bartenders who are proficient at following drink recipes, using the correct glass, and operating a point-of-sale system.

But fewer bartenders share unique knowledge. Unique knowledge provides customers with “insider” information that is unexpected, valued, and memorable. It creates opportunities to spark dialogue and engagement with customers. It is relational rather than transactional, and inspires increased spending, hefty tips, and referrals.

Although this post has featured bartenders, the concept applies to every job role. What customer-facing job role do you occupy or oversee? Look for opportunities to provide the “best” customer service possible by uncovering and sharing unique knowledge – rather than settle for “good” service quality by merely executing a set of predictable job functions.

While customers appreciate efficient employees, they value knowledgeable employees. And the more unique knowledge employees possess, the more value they can add to the customer experience.

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