Thomas Ferkovic Mar 22, 2022 2:15:18 PM 8 min read

In Search of Excellence: Raising the Bar on the Service Business

I recently read an article in our local paper entitled, “Don’t curse the supply chain. Just lower your expectations.”

As someone who has spent decades in the service business, it stopped me in my tracks. While supply chain issues are, of course, a real and substantial issue, lowering our expectations overall to account for the challenges simply cannot be the answer. In my experience and opinion, those in the service business who do not want to provide the best product or service possible have no place in that business. And if they don’t realize that voluntarily, the market and competitors who do care will quickly push them out.

Covid and the ‘Great Resignation’ have delivered huge hurdles to running successful operations. We see it constantly in our day-to-day lives: at retail outlets, restaurants, government agencies and service centers. But great organizations thrive no matter what curveball is thrown at them. It’s been inspiring to see the companies that have figured out how to meet expectations, deliver great service and even innovate in new and exciting ways despite the obstacles. I, for one, have resolved to raise my bar again to celebrate these companies striving for greatness and not, as my local paper suggests, lowering their expectations. True hardships and obstacles for a business are one thing; Complacency with mediocrity is another.

This, of course, isn’t the first time in our history that service has generally been in decline. In the late 1970’s, businesses talked at length about customer service, but in reality, service quality was quite low. Then, a groundbreaking book, In Search of Excellence, was published outlining why some companies were successful, and others were not. In Search of Excellence was written in 1982 by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman and became one of the most widely read management books of all time. Peters and Waterman studied over 40 successful companies, arguing three concepts were responsible for their success: People, Customers, and Action. These translated into eight meaningful takeaways for successful companies:

  1. A bias for action – ‘get on with it’
  2. Close to the customer – learn from the people served by the business
  3. Autonomy and Entrepreneurship – foster innovation and nurture champions
  4. Productivity through people – treat the team as the source of Quality
  5. Hands-on value driven management philosophy – management showing its commitment
  6. Stick to the knitting – stay with the business you know
  7. Simple form – lean staff; minimal corporate staff
  8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties – autonomy close to the customer plus centralized values

Patients, customers, and the public notice when service is poor, or a business’ expectations are low. Some will tolerate it, but many will leave and take their business elsewhere. If your mission and vision is to deliver mediocre service, then do not worry. Tape a “WE DELIVER MEDIOCRE SERVICE!” sign on the wall and continue on.

But if you strive for excellence; If you aspire to be and provide the best; If you care about your customers and your business’ legacy, then you have another choice. Even when you are tired, do not have the team you wish you had, or feel a little like ‘chicken little’ (the sky is falling…), the choice to keep the bar high is always yours.  

Ask yourself:

  • Are we getting on with it, or just mired in excuses?
  • Are we close to and listening to our customers?
  • Are you nurturing your future leaders and entrepreneurs or tolerating mediocre teams?
  • Is your team really the source of your quality and strength?
  • Are you leading from the front?
  • Are you searching for miracles or betting on the business you know?
  • Is your corporate staff larger than the team servicing your customers?
  • Are you living your values?

When a leader makes excuses, the team learns that excuses are okay. But when a leader shows by example what it means to push through adversity and maintain a standard of greatness, the bar is raised for everyone. I hope more businesses will take on this challenge and adopt a new headline: “Don’t curse the obstacles. Strive for excellence anyway and win.”

Thomas J. Ferkovic, R, PH, MS, is CEO of Medic Management Group.  His background includes extensive work in areas including business and clinical advisory; revenue cycle management, transaction support, crisis management / turn around execution, and practice management.  MMG is a national provider of consulting services and back office administrative support to independent and system owned physician practice groups.