Sweating The Small Stuff

February 25, 2011

Have you heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” As with many absolutely valid aphorisms, this one makes perfect sense in one context and yet is completely wrong in another.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff” is usually followed by… how to keep your cool in stressful situations, or how to focus on the really important things in life – like family and relationships, goals, and priorities. I agree. I’m a believer. I mumble these words to myself all the time. I often find myself getting caught up in what my dad often called the “thick of thin things.” So, find out what’s important in your life and let the rest go. It’s great advice.

However, in the context of the service provider experience, it is actually the “small stuff” that separates the winners from the losers. It is mistakes with the small stuff that the customer uses to make future purchasing decisions. If my towels aren’t fresh smelling, or the fish is greasy, or the remote control battery for my TV is dead. I don’t really care how great your hotel’s branding is, how impactful your advertising appears, or how attractive your décor.

Little mistakes can have large consequences. For example, one of the more notorious typos supposedly found in Bible printing over the years is a prominent error from a 1631 King James edition that reads simply, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” (Little typo, big mistake!)

I would argue that it is in the “boring everyday,” or “the little things” that really great service brands are born. You may have heard the old marketing adage, “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” I don’t buy that. Sure, there is the occasional branding success, where “marketing sizzle” creates the opening for “operations steak.” But in 99% of cases, it’s the other way around; the steak comes before the sizzle. The service you provide must be darn close to perfect, or I won’t believe any of the hype you shovel me about it.

I’ve given a lot of thought to why so many service providers fall short on executing the details. I’m convinced that far and away the number one reason for the service lapse on details is that focusing on them is just not as interesting as working on new ideas, new strategies, etc.

After 25 years of listening to service industry customers on this subject, here’s my take. With the exception of a few, specialized boutique brands, the majority of consumers are looking for consistency and dependability from their service brands. Most don’t want the sizzle, they just want the performance. The sizzle may work once, but it’s the steak that keeps them coming back.

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