Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back to Client Service

Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters wrote a book titled, The Customer Comes Second in 1992. They came out with a 10-year anniversary update in 2002. It was a book that inspired the culture I wanted to create in my company back in 1995 and served as the inspiration for my passion for client service today.

It's a basic but important read. While you might feel as if you can grasp the concept from the headline, that's true. Rosenbluth's theory was simple: if you want your people to deliver great service to your customers (clients), then you have to put your employees first. The genius of the book however is how Rosenbluth created that culture. It's sheer brilliance.

A Publishers Weekly review of the updated version tells the story nicely:

In an update to the volume they published 10 years ago, Rosenbluth, the CEO of an eponymous travel management company, and Peters, his former communications officer, remind readers that despite great changes in the business world, the need for companies "to attract, retain, and develop astonishingly great people" is a constant. They argue that company's employees, not its customers, should be management's top priority: managers should hire "nice people" and create an environment in which friendships can develop. Maybe it sounds a little wishy-washy, but it's worked for Rosenbluth International (NB: they have a 98% customer retention rate and $6.2 billion in annual sales). Tenets include: monitor company morale, keep leaders accessible, make your company "a lifestyle," offer lots of opportunities for learning new things, celebrate success, be flexible. By charting the changes within their own company, Rosenbluth and Peters show how other businesses can become better places to work as well.

I wrote to Rosenbluth in 1995 when I started my company. As you might imagine, he promptly wrote back to me and wished me luck. It may be one of the only letters I ever had framed. I hung it in my office back then and cherish it today as a reminder of the importance if its message.

American Express acquired Rosenbluth International in 2003 for what I can only say was for a "slightly higher" purchase price than I received when I sold my PR firm with only 10 employees three years earlier.

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