The 9th Tip to Business Excellence

In September1995 when I commenced my banking and finance law firm, we did this one thing that got people talking. We started with one client (Citibank), but quickly grew to over 35 corporate clients within 18 months. Our firm’s meteoric rise attracted the attention of the Law Society of NSW, which asked me to talk at one of their functions. The topic was, how to go from been a great lawyer to being a great entrepreneur.

BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY

So I stood up on that stage and talked very passionately about the need to commoditize and corporatize, the need for systems and operational efficiency, the need for transparency and the need to motivate staff. But then, I had a comment from the back of the room from someone who said, “…but that still does not explain how your firm grew so quickly.”

That confronting comment then sparked my honest and impromptu response that went something like this: “There is one thing that we do that gets people talking about us and spreading the word. It’s really very simple. We GO BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY.”

To a room full of lawyers, I thought my response was going to fall on deaf ears. Lawyers are after all obsessed with time costing and billable hours. But I went on to explain that sometimes we need to need to perform our job not solely for the purpose of making money and operational efficiency. Sometimes we need to do more for less. Sometimes we need to make a loss.

I gave them the example of how our firm did not shy away from the difficult customers or the difficult files. I told them the story of how one day I received an urgent set of commercial loan instructions at 5pm. A senior paralegal and I stayed back to prepare some very complicated loan contracts. Then I left the office at 8pm and drove for an hour to deliver the documents personally to the customers home where he and his lawyer were waiting. I received a polite ‘thank you’ and they closed the front door. I was not asked if I wanted a glass of water or to come in and rest a little. I was a little disappointed. But I built a bridge and got over it and went about my business. Two weeks later I received a letter from the CEO of the bank that I was acting for. The letter thanked me for going ‘out of my way’ to help the customer that also happened to be a personal friend of his. Let me tell you that over the ensuing 6 months our volume with that client quadrupled! Simply because we went beyond the call of duty.

That was my message in 1997. Today there are many businesses that live by this mantra. There is a company in the USA that is famous for going beyond the call of duty. Zappos is a company that sells shoes online and back it up with a call centre filled with people that are eager to please the customer. They call it “Delivering Happiness”. There are many stories of how Zappos staff go beyond the call of duty. There is the story of how one employee spent over 5 hours on the phone with a bride-to-be looking for a pair of shoes she remembered seeing in a bridal magazine. Now do you think Zappos made a profit out of that transaction? Definitely not. But it was great marketing dollars! Because that customer talked about her experience.

We have to accept that we live in an age where customers have more power. People are sharing their experiences more than ever. This scares the hell out of a lot of companies. The ones that are focused on operational efficiency but the clever businesses see that as an opportunity. The opportunity is to get people talking about you by going beyond the call of duty.