“Mediocrity loves company.” (Unknown)

Is it just me or has mediocrity become a way of life? I can barely remember the last time I experienced truly great service. It seems like good enough has reached a new low.

Take for instance the experience I had recently with a major cell phone company. All I wanted to do was buy a pre-paid cell phone for my 91 year-old mom. She already had the phone, so all I needed was the pre-paid minutes. I went to the nearest store, went online to the website and after all other efforts failed I called the customer service number that was buried on the website. It still took two different customer service people to fulfill my request. Finally, I reached nirvana and the minutes actually showed up on her phone. All told, I spent nearly two hours of my old age trying to get a company to take my money. Does it really have to be this difficult?

I don’t possess an MBA, so I’m not qualified to criticize the geniuses who run most companies these days but since when has taking money from a customer become such a hassle. In my experience with small business ownership, getting paid was all that mattered. Cash flow is what we called it back then and it was extremely important. It had to happen before the bills got paid and paychecks were even possible. I hand wrote invoices if it meant getting cash from a customer right then and there. My office manager wasn’t always happy with me for going around the bookkeeping system but she understood my reasoning and we always found a way to make it work.

Is this really the best we can do? Has mediocrity become the standard operating procedure today? My only theory for why this has happened is that it works well with political correctness and the goal of making everybody as comfortable as possible at all times. By dumbing down our expectations of job performance we all get to feel good about ourselves. It’s the Peter Principle run amok. By keeping customers at bay with woeful websites and clueless customer service, businesses can hide their inadequacies and managers can still make their numbers and get their bonuses. That’s the real aim of business today, don’t make waves and get your bonus check. How mediocre is that?

It’s a good thing I’m no longer running a company. I would probably get arrested for disturbing the peace that mediocrity promises. My management principles were based on two books I read in my early days of running the business, The Goal and In Search of Excellence. Both of these excellent reads made it quite clear that eliminating bottlenecks was the most important function of a good leader. I did this by refusing to let anything get between us and the clients like never having voice mail, taking messages in writing and returning calls promptly. I made it a company goal to never let the phone ring three times and we had five lines for just a fifteen person company. My standard response, when customers were surprised that I answered their calls personally, was this, “You’re my customer. Why wouldn’t I want to talk to you?” We were never perfect but nobody ever tried harder to make clients happy and get paid as soon as possible.

Mediocre was and still is a dirty word with me. I hate hearing, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that” when they really mean “Management won’t let me do that.” That’s when you know the company has made conformity its performance metric. “Don’t think, just do what management tells you and stay in line,” is the mantra of Corporate America and the reason so many people hate their job. And the most troubling reality of all is that profitability is much harder to achieve when the employees are forced to stop caring about the customers. Mediocrity and conformity are the root of all evil as far as I’m concerned but I think JFK said it better, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” Now that’s a bold statement, let’s all try to remember what that feels like. I can hear the MBAs grumbling already.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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2 Responses to “Mediocrity loves company.” (Unknown)

  1. Kelly says:

    I could not agree more with your thoughts about customer service these days. It sucks in most places. I recently started a new job and I can tell that customer service skills have really skipped a generation. Have you read the book Good to Great? It discusses getting the right people on the bus so that you build a solid team that is knowledgeable and has great customer service skills!

    • grhgraph says:

      I haven’t read Good to Great but I’ve heard it’s really good. My biggest gripe with management these days is their inability to get out of the way of the employees who are trying their best to get the work done and keep customers happy. A good manager makes it easy for his employees to succeed by training them right, giving them all the tools to work with and minimizing distractions like repetitive reports and unnecessary meetings. I don’t blame employees when I encounter bad customer service because ultimately their performance is a direct reflection of their inept managers. Thanks for the comment Kelly.

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