Book Review - May/June 2012
Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business
Authors: Frances Frei and Anne Morriss
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
Reviewed by Terri Schlichenmeyer
You’ve never had a worse shopping experience in your life. There was no salesperson on the floor and when you finally spotted a human being with a name tag, she was surly. The cashier snarled a sarcastic “thanks” before literally throwing your purchase in a bag and shoving it across the counter. You vowed never to shop there again and that you would never allow your employees to behave that way. You know good customer service when you see it, but in Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, you’ll learn how to do it best.
How can you make sure that you’re not losing business because of abysmal customer service? Frei and Morriss say that the first — and hardest — thing to do is to “have the stomach to do some things badly.” To achieve that, you must understand “The Four Service Truths,” the first of which is, you can’t be good at everything. Excellence comes at a price. There are certain things about your business that your customers value more than others. What’s not important to them probably shouldn’t be overly important to you. But you can’t give stellar customer service away for free. Someone has to pay for it, whether you raise prices (the easiest to do), reduce costs, or teach your customers to do some of the hard work for you (the fun thing to do). The good news is that the fun way “gets the most attention.”
Bad customer service is not the fault of your employees. Your hiring process might be all wrong; the job may be poorly designed; IT tools may be overwhelming. Perhaps training is inadequate; perhaps you’re giving employees too many tangible incentives and not enough pride in their jobs. Know that customer management is important. Give customers some level of involvement. Let them serve themselves. And if all else fails, fire them.
Uncommon Service starts out as dry as a museum bone, but things soon begin to sound like fun for both customers and employees. Through examples from the Internet, banking, retail and service industries, the authors prove that their Four Truths are real truths. While there are some dig-in-deep exercises, most of what is suggested is easy to do and will give businessowners greater insight to their business. Uncommon Service is uncommonly helpful. If you’re a businessowner, read it soon.
Freeman: A Novel
By Leonard Pitts Jr.
Agate/Bolden, May 2012
$16, 401 pp.
It is a few days after the Civil War following General Lee’s surrender and the institution of slavery in America has ended. Sam Freeman, an educated escaped slave from the brutal South who found work at the Library Company of Philadelphia, decides to return to Mississippi with the hopes of reuniting with his wife, whom he had left 15 years ago. As Sam’s journey begins, he befriends Ben, who is also heading South. Ben is a constant reminder that Sam’s experiences as “a free man” are uncommon. In the meantime, Prudence Cafferty Kent, a strong-willed widow from Boston, travels to the South with her “sister” Bonnie, a Black woman, on a different mission. Hers is to fulfill the wish of her deceased abolitionist father and open a school for freed Negroes. Once there, the women face the hostilities of white townspeople who believe Blacks have no right to education. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Leonard Pitts Jr., is a compelling storyteller and in Freeman he explores the meanings of freedom; he expresses a tone of sympathy for his characters’ troubles in this gripping tale about sacrifice and determination.
Black Cool: One Thousand
Streams of Blackness
By Rebecca Walker
Soft Skull Press, February 2012
$14.95, 164 pp.
How inventive that the word “cool” does not ascribe to one definition. Most times when the word is used nowadays, it’s to describe something of someone’s character. As conveyed in the collection of essays presented in Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness, cool is also something experienced, something observed. In Black Cool, several of today’s cultural intellectuals identify some of the characteristics of cool and from the 16 essays gathered comes a wide range of elements such as audacity, reserve, resistance and soul to add to the definition. Walker stated, “I wanted to understand actually what is transmits that idea of cool, that notion of cool, vibe of cool.” The writers do an impressive job of pinpointing the moment when they recognized or identified cool in their own lives and within our culture. The reader comes away reminded that cool is not just an attitude, a sound, or a look. Cool is part of the Black aesthetic and also an innate survival mechanism that keeps many of us inspired and standing proud.
— Reviewed by Clarence V. Reynold