Is there such a thing as servant leadership in government?

(This is the eleventh installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

I realize that what I have been saying about creating a servant leadership culture in Washington is not easy to sell. To a lot of people, it sounds like “soft management.”

When I am confronted by these kinds of concerns, I love to tell about an experience I had several years ago at my local branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Stop me if you’ve heard this one!

When you mention the DMV, most people would say it’s a government bureaucracy that often treats them as a number instead of a human being. I felt the same way at the time—but like we all do every few years, I had to go there in person to renew my driver’s license.  I hadn’t been to the DMV in years and headed to the office with low expectations.

I knew immediately something had changed when I walked in the front door and was greeted by a smiling woman. “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! Do you speak English or Spanish?”

“English,” I replied.

She pointed to a nearby counter and said, “Right over there.”

The guy behind the counter cheerfully said, “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! How may I help you today?” It took me only nine minutes to get my replacement license, including having my picture taken. I asked the woman who took my picture, “What are you all smoking here? This isn’t the same old DMV I used to know and love.”

She asked, “Haven’t you met our new director?”and pointed to a man sitting at a desk right in the middle of everything. I walked over to him, introduced myself, and asked, “What’s your job as the director of this branch of the DMV?” The man gave me the best definition of management I had ever heard:

“My job is to reorganize the department on a moment-to-moment basis, depending on citizen (customer) need.”

The director obviously had a compelling vision for his department. The point of their business was to serve the needs of their customers, and to serve them well. What did this director do? I learned that he cheered everybody on—that’s why he was out in the middle of the action. He also cross-trained everyone in every job—that way, if a flood of citizens came in suddenly, they would be able to provide the service that was needed. And no one went to lunch between 11:30 and 2:00, because that was the busiest time of day for customers to come in.

This director created a motivating environment for his people. His team members were really committed. Even employees I recognized from past visits—who at the time had seemed stiff and jaded—were now excited about serving.

When leaders are servants first and leaders second, they make a positive difference in everyone around them. Would you like to work for this kind of leader? You’d better believe it. Why? Because he’s a servant leader who treats his people as his business partners in implementing the service vision and solving problems.

If this philosophy can impact a government agency like the DMV, why can’t it impact all segments of society, including the U.S. government? 

To me, what’s needed are leaders in Washington who believe we should:

  • Have a Compelling Vision: If people don’t have a larger purpose to serve, the only thing they have to serve is themselves.
  • Treat Citizens as Business Partners: People who are well informed have a greater commitment to help solve problems.
  • Involve Every Sector of Society: No problem can withstand the assault of sustained collective thinking and action.
  • Elect Servant Leaders:  The more leaders we have in Washington who realize that their job is to serve, not to be served, the better chance we have of breaking our political deadlock and maintaining our reputable standing in the world.

Thanks for tuning in to the Leadership Vision for America series.  America is a great country and I feel blessed every day to be able to live here. Let’s encourage our leaders to do what they need to do to keep America moving in the right direction. And if you’re an American citizen, be sure to get out and vote on November 6, on national, state, and local political races and issues. Your vote counts! 

I’ll have some final thoughts next week as I conclude this series. What are your thoughts as Election Day approaches?

Happy Employees = Happy Customers

I recently had a wonderful experience working with the founder and the head of leadership for a wonderful healthcare company in the Midwest whose main focus is elder care. It was inspirational to be with leaders who understand that the most important customer they have is their employees. They really want their employees to be excited about giving the absolutely best, most legendary service. The elder healthcare industry has tried hard to change a less-than-stellar reputation caused by news reports over the years of some facilities mistreating patients. But this organization has a great reputation for serving their patients. The workers respond to the needs of the patients and maintain an atmosphere that is stimulating and exciting for them. Continue reading

How to create Raving Fan customers

To have a successful business, you don’t want satisfied customers—you want Raving Fans. I wrote a book with the title Raving Fans along with Sheldon Bowles from Winnipeg, Canada. Our belief is that you don’t want to simply satisfy your customers. You want to treat them so well that they are blown away—that they brag about you. The way to do that is to think about the customer service experience you want them to have.

In the 1970s when all the gas stations were switching to self-service gasoline, Sheldon started a chain of full-service stations called Domo Gas. Sheldon said, “Most people don’t want to go to the gas station unless they have to, so I want to give them the best service, the quickest service, and the friendliest service.” So his vision was that if you came to one of his stations, it would be like going to an Indianapolis 500 race pit stop. He hired housewives and retirees and had them all wear red jumpsuits. When a customer came in, several attendants would race out. Someone checked under the hood. Someone pumped the gas. Someone washed the windshield. Someone opened the car door, handed the customer a newspaper and a cup of coffee, and asked the customer to step out so they could give the car a quick vacuum. Do you think Sheldon made a difference across Canada? You’d better believe it! Because he didn’t just have satisfied customers, he had Raving Fans. Everybody talked about the experience of going to one of his gas stations and how they were treated.

So don’t just satisfy customers—think of how you can really blow them away and turn them into Raving Fans.

The Customer is King

As part of a new series, I’m introducing today’s leadership concept via a segment extracted from my latest book, Lead with LUV, coauthored by former Southwest Airlines president Colleen Barrett.

 

The Customer is King

I’ve said for many years that profit is the applause you get for taking care of your customers and creating a motivating environment for your people. No organization has lived and breathed that lesson better than Southwest Airlines.  Read on for a great example of how Southwest creates Raving Fan customers by taking care of them like nobody else does.

Ken: These days, nobody has to convince anybody that the customer reigns. People are realizing that their organizations will go nowhere without the loyalty and commitment of their customers. Companies are motivated to change when they discover the new rule: Today, if you don’t take great care of your customers, somebody else will.

Colleen: That’s for sure! So great customer service has to be top of mind for all of your people. We emphasize that all the time. I love the way you and Sheldon Bowles challenged us all to create Raving Fans®, not simply satisfied customers.

Ken: We think enthusiastic Raving Fan customers make your business into a great business. Today you can’t be content to simply satisfy customers. Raving Fan customers are customers who are so excited about the way you treat them that they want to brag about you—they become part of your sales force. Let me give you a simple yet powerful example of this, from an experience I had personally with Southwest Airlines.

What usually happens when you call most airlines to either make or change a reservation?  You get a recording that says, “All of our agents are busy right now, but your business is very important to us, so please stay on the line and we will be with you as soon as possible.” Then the music starts. You could be on hold for who knows how long, sitting and waiting to talk to a human being.

Recently, I called Southwest to change a reservation. Normally at Southwest, a human being picks up the phone. This time, a recording said, “I’m sorry, our Customer Service Agents are all busy right now; but at the beep, please leave your name and telephone number and we will call you back within ten minutes.” So that’s what I did. What do you think happened a few minutes later? My cell phone rang, and this pleasant voice said, “Is this Ken Blanchard?”

I said, “Yes.”

“Ken, this is Bob from Southwest Airlines. How may I help you?”

Colleen, I’ve never had that experience with any other airline. How did you make that happen?

Colleen: That’s a feature that’s available to all airlines. It’s called virtual queuing. It helps us handle our heaviest calling times without lowering our Customer Service standard.

Ken: Why would Southwest use such a feature, and no other airline seems to be doing it?

Colleen: I don’t know. But we’re always looking for service capabilities that far exceed those of the competition, and that even exceed customer expectations. Being called back by an airline? It was beyond most customers’ belief. Yet we routinely try to do the unexpected, and can then enjoy the growth and good reputation generated by customers like you, Ken, who have spontaneously joined our sales force by bragging about us.

 

If you think it’s too much trouble to go the extra mile for your customers, think again. It’s just common sense: Treat your customers unexpectedly well and they’ll be so delighted they will come back again and again, tell their friends, and your organization will reap the benefits.  Do you have any great customer service stories that have become legendary around your organization? If not, you might want to stop and think about it.