The fundamental reason so much service stinks and the first step in moving beyond it.

What’s the biggest problem with companies delivering great service?

That’s a big question. To answer, I will begin with two short stories.

The first one concerns a plane trip where, after boarding, I sat in my aisle seat next to an elderly woman. An announcement came from the captain that we would be a little late pulling out of our gate due to a weight-balance issue. The woman next to me, looking nervous, immediately pushed the attendant call button. A flight attendant came to her attention. My neighbor asked him if he could explain the weight balance issue and how long it would take. His response was a snippy retort that they were doing all they could, and she was just going to have to wait like everyone else. He then abruptly trotted off to take care of something else having not listened to or answered her questions and leaving her no better off. Trying to be helpful, I then did my best to answer her questions as I had experienced this before.

The second story involves an ordeal ordering flowers for my wife on her birthday when she was out of town on business. A couple of days before the big event, I called one of the more renowned internet florists to make the arrangements. After going over the flowers I wanted and the vase that would be best, I had one simple special request, and it was that they deliver them to the front desk of the hotel as I had previously given the front desk agent specific instructions on how to place the flowers in my wife’s room. The florist, without so much as a blink of an eye, responded that they could not do that and would only deliver to wherever the hotel normally takes deliveries. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t asking for them to climb a mountain or anything. Needless to say, I took my business elsewhere.

In both stories, there was one common denominator—selfishness. That may sound harsh but when we look at what selfishness really means, I think you will agree. Here’s what our friends at Merriam-Webster say: selfishness is a concern for one’s own welfare or advantage at the expense of or in disregard of others; an excessive interest in oneself.

Put my stories in that light. The flight attendant was focused on themselves with little to no regard for the woman and her needs, and the flower company had a rule that cared more about the company than the customer. Both fit the selfishness definition.

Whether it is individual selfishness or corporate selfishness, it is a problem that has run rampant and continues to complicate our experiences daily. We see it over and over in people like the flight attendant who are indifferent to others because they see what they need as more important than the needs of those they are supposed to help. We see it repeatedly in organizations where policies, rules, or fine-print disclaimers are set that benefit the company at the expense of the customer.

If this has you thinking, good. It needs to change. In fact, if you are worried about your business, maybe it is time to examine your selfishness quotient.

Are your team members more interested in their own performance and what they need to do than caring for those they are charged with helping?

How about your company? Are your policies and rules all about the company with little regard for how they impact customers?

Go investigate. This overriding issue, selfishness, is a big deal. It stands behind just about every problem customers have. And in this world where workplace incivility, levels of narcissism, and overall individualistic behaviors are on the rise, it is no wonder it is happening.

Get to work. Look hard at your organization. Root out selfish thinking and replace it with helpful thinking. This is the first best step to really begin building a reputation as a great service company.

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