Creating an above-and-beyond culture Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

World-class service organizations create an awareness of the most common opportunities where employees can deliver heroic service for the customer, creating an above-and-beyond culture.

Are your employees empowered and inspired to exceed customer expectations? Do you have mechanisms in place to collect and redistribute above-and-beyond stories to constantly remind your employees of that vision?

The truth of the matter is that everyone gets the same number of above-and-beyond opportunities. The only difference is some employees see the opportunity and act on it, while others fail to see it.

Here are five steps to creating an above-and-beyond culture:

  1. Empower employees with the confidence that they can aggressively go above and beyond without being second-guessed by management.
  2. Train employees to consistently recognize opportunities that occur.
  3. Inspire them to think outside the box for the customer.
  4. Acquire and document all above-and-beyond stories in your organization.
  5. Advertise and recognize those stories and employees throughout your entire organization.

The answer’s yes. ... What’s the question?
I hate the word no. I can’t believe how many people in a vast number of companies use it. It should be stricken from use in any company that is focused on customer service.

While staying in a prominent hotel in Las Vegas, I ordered room service. When asked if I wanted fries or coleslaw as my side, I asked if I could have fruit. The person’s response was a quick and unfriendly, “No. Do you want fries or coleslaw?” I said, “What do you mean, no? I see a fruit dish on your menu.” She responded, “Well, I would have to charge you.” I wasn’t asking for it for free. How easy would it be to say, “Certainly, while you cannot substitute the fruit for your side dish, I can add it to your order.”

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants not only removed the word “no” from the vocabulary of its 2,000 associates, it also has a great service brand promise: Yes is the answer. ... What’s the question?

Cameron Mitchell himself created a brilliant metaphor on which the company’s service philosophy is founded. It is known as the “Milkshake.” Legend has it that several years ago, Mitchell and his family were at a restaurant, and his son asked if he could have a milkshake. The server said no. Mitchell knew the restaurant had ice cream, milk and a blender, so he couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t accommodate such a simple thing. So the milkshake became an icon to remind everyone at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants about finding a way to say yes. Having three young boys myself, I know we’ve been in a restaurant where one of my sons didn’t like the kid’s menu and asked if he could have a grilled cheese. Again, nearly every time the answer was no. Once, I asked the waiter, “Do you mean to tell me that your restaurant doesn’t have bread and cheese that someone could throw on a stove?” The waiter responded, “Yeah, but I wouldn’t know how to ring it up.” I responded, “I don’t care if you charge me the price of a steak. You don’t want my kid upset because he can empty this restaurant faster than a fire.”

The milkshake has grown into a life of its own at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. They start every company meeting with a “milkshake toast,” and they give a Milkshake Award to the associates who best demonstrate the spirit of their service brand promise.

The point of this philosophy is that too many employees and companies say no way too quickly without thinking how easy it would be to grant the customer’s wish. Many times it is blamed on company policy. Many times it’s just laziness on the part of the front-line employee.

Find your milkshake metaphor
I help many companies come up with their icon and metaphor, similar to the milkshake, specific to their culture. The first thing a company has to do is find its best above-and-beyond stories and then choose the most significant one that will serve as the example. Once a company has this story, the next thing it does is create the symbol, logo or picture that represents the best story. Eventually, words will be unnecessary. When employees see that picture, they will be instantly reminded of the culture they work in and the legacy they have to uphold.

JOHN R. DIJULIUS is the best-selling author of “What’s The Secret? To Providing a World-Class Customer Experience.” (Wiley, May 2008). He is also president of The DiJulius Group, a firm specializing in giving companies a superior competitive advantage by helping them differentiate on delivering an experience and making price irrelevant. Reach him at