Be an artist
guest commentary by Jim Kolettis, director of marketing and sales at Mahar Manufacturing. Kolettis can be reached at [email protected]
My father worked for a number of companies during his career as a tire salesman. He always said, “For the most part tires are tires. Yes, you have to provide a quality product at a reasonable price, but it’s how the companies treat their customers that make the real difference. It’s a simple formula: excellence = quality.”
But there’s more to that mantra. Take, for example, my water company. Are they excellent? Every time I turn on the tap, water comes out. The bills aren’t outrageous. I never need to call them. Are they excellent? Or boring?
What about the local grocery or the other boring commodity providers in my life? By my definition, once you start providing a commodity that your customers treat as a commodity, you’re no longer excellent.
Here’s my take: Excellence means that you’re indispensable. At least right now, in this moment, there’s no one else I would choose but you. You, the excellent one, are so surprising, so delightful, so over-the-top and, yes, so human that there really isn’t anyone else I’d rather do business with.
The "in the moment" nature of excellence makes it a moving target. JetBlue was excellent, for a while, but then others started catching up and new management started slowing down. Suddenly, it wasn’t a JetBlue flight any more, it was just a flight. Easy to switch to Virgin Atlantic or someone else.
Excellence isn’t about meeting the spec, it’s about setting the spec. It defines what the consumer sees as quality right this minute, and tomorrow, if you’re good, you’ll reset that expectation again.
The surefire way to achieve excellence, then, is not to create a written spec and match it. The surefire way is to be human. To be artistic: to make a connection with the customer and to somehow change them for the better.
When the Ritz-Carlton hotel empowers every employee from chambermaid to manager to "make things right," they’re not engaging in the sort of quality control most managers are comfortable with. In fact, if they were able to write down exactly what to do in every situation, the excellence factor would disappear. What the hotel accomplishes with its policy is this: they challenge their employees to become artists.
The art of connection, the art of being human, the art of making a difference. Artists do things that have never been done before. They dig deep to create passion. They connect by changing things for the better.
The economy has been better, and the economy has been worse. Through it all, the market seeks out, recognizes, and embraces artists, people we can’t live without. That’s our opportunity right now.
To be excellent means you must be an artist.