You can feel it. There’s an extra-early push of retailers’ holiday marketing this year. Everyone is working for higher numbers. And why not—it’s smart business! ‘Seems stores everywhere are scrambling to declare an extension of Black Friday, stretching your can’t-miss deals to include the entire month. One of my favorite radio stations just launched their Christmas music, and it’s only mid-November. Now, I love Jingle Bells with the best of ‘em, but I find myself rolling my eyes and uttering a sarcastic pleeeez under my breath, as I change the station. Could we at least get to Thanksgiving week?
As the pulse of purchasing, the trappings of tinsel, and the wanna-be sensational sales season all crank up, it could be tempting for all of us to go crazy over the almighty push of the product. In fact, during this year—when everyone is longing for a further surge in economic recovery—it would be easier than ever to believe the only bottom line is the number of units sold and how deep the stacks of greenbacks grow.
I find myself asking, as we push into the season of big sales and the hopes that Santa’s sleigh will be overflowing: Does service-oriented, responsive business still matter? And if so, what difference might it really make?
Mom and I sat at Panera together one evening in October, indulging in scrumptious salads and delectable sandwiches. Amid the warm chatter, our conversation morphed into reminiscing about Thanksgivings of yesteryear. One tale she shared from her childhood serves as a poignant reminder of the power—yea, even the all-out necessity—of responsive, service-oriented business.
In step with many classic homes of the 1950s, Mom’s family typically procured their turkey for the big feast from the local grocer. Marvin’s Market was known throughout the region of Lebanon, Ohio for supplying fresh, quality meats at fair prices—and with exceptional service. So naturally, the Thanksgiving of 1956 would be no exception. There was simply no question where Everett Hall’s family would purchase the bird for their Thanksgiving Day spread.
On his way home from work on Thanksgiving Eve, Everett, Mom’s dad (and my granddad), would pick up the immense turkey, weighing in at nearly twenty pounds. It was fresh—never frozen—and carefully wrapped in crisp, white butcher paper. By this point in the day, my grandmother, Mom’s mom, would be working feverishly with Aunt Grace and other relatives, baking pies, chopping bread, and mixing the seasonings for stuffing.
It was my mother’s dubious task (at the ripe old age of seven) to meticulously pull any tiny, black pinfeathers that might still be remaining in the turkey’s body. On this particular Thanksgiving Eve, immediately after dinner and dishwashing, Grandma landed Tom Turkey in the middle of their big oval, oak kitchen table. Gram began to pull back the white paper as Mom huddled close to begin her pinfeather-pulling task.
To their horror and disgust, as the paper was pulled back, they were quickly greeted by a repulsive odor emanating from the great bird. Grandma and Mom grabbed for their noses and called for Grandpa. Everett came quickly, and with one whiff of the carcass, he declared their bird to be spoiled and not fit for consumption—not even for the canines of the house. It was a tremendously foul smell, indeed!
By now it was nearly 8 p.m. Grandpa promptly picked up the phone and dialed Marvin. He placed the call to his home phone. Within three rings, Marvin answered. Grandpa kindly explained. “So sorry to bother you, Marvin, but we’ve got a glitch in our feast. It seems that somehow, a bad bird landed on our table. You won’t believe the horrific smell.”
‘Just fifteen minutes, and Marvin himself was rapping on their front door and delivering a fresh, twenty-five pound gobbler. It would be the biggest feast the Hall house had ever experienced. Marvin apologized profusely for the mishap, and just as quickly as he came, he whisked away the stinking tom. In the moments that followed Marvin’s departure, Grandma and Mom made a stunning discovery. They quickly concluded that Marvin had brought them his own family’s turkey. Removing the classic paper, they discovered this bird was already meticulously cleaned. Not a single black pinfeather could be found.
Even in 1956, while such behavior was more expected and deemed noble, this was still astonishingly impressive business—especially after-hours on the eve of a holiday. Indeed, it spoke a passionate focus for serving people.
While we like to say we value a personalized people-focus, we must collectively confess, such attitudes and actions are rare in our day. So, I’m wondering: Are our teams primed and ready, in this holiday season 2013, not only to deliver a stack of product, sell a bunch, and make a bunch, but to also deliver exceptional service, to truly serve others in ways that bless and add real value?
Author Ken Eldred, in his insightful book The Integrated Life, draws from Jesus’ greatest command, loving God and loving neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). Eldred concludes that the real goal of business is to serve others to the glory of God, and he cites J.C. Penney, founder of the successful retail chain, who espoused this overarching objective in business. In an early store ad, Penney critiqued the dichotomized thinking so prevalent in business, with this clarification:
The assumption was that business is secular, and service is religious. I have never been able to accept that line of arbitrary demarcation . . . . Is not service part and parcel of business? It seems to me so; business is therefore as much religious as it is secular. If we follow the admonition to love God, and our neighbors as ourselves, it will lead us to understand that, first of all, success is a matter of the spirit.
Thus, Penney’s foundational goal in business was serving others to the glory of God. I wonder what could happen, in our collective spirit and the bigger bottom line, if we would dare to broaden our thinking.
Consider a quick handful of ideas as we roll full-steam into the season:
First, check your own attitude as a leader. “Is my heart focusing on truly serving others? Am I daily cultivating a people-focused mindset?”
Second, take the time to gather your team(s) and talk about the importance of going above and beyond this season. Perhaps reading them this dusty old tale from my mom’s childhood would help orient them to a renewed service mindset. Let them discuss what they believe was Marvin’s motivation as well as what the outcomes would have been had he not demonstrated such service for the Hall family.
Third, raise the bar. Challenge your teams, at every level, to intentionally plan for slowing down, talking and sharing with customers, and finding ways to actually care and serve their clients and contacts each day and each week. Such intentionality will be an important cure for the all-too-often crushing, rushing push of the frantic season!
Mom and I chuckled as she wrapped up her recounting of Marvin’s most marvelous moment for the Hall family’s Thanksgiving. We shook our heads together with big smiles. Mom reflected, “Do you realize that Marvin’s one act of service, such personalized customer-concern was so powerful, we are still talking about it over five decades later?”
Who will be reminiscing about your team’s exceptional care and service in 2063?
Eldred, The Integrated Life, 43-44.