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Your Standards Slip is Showing

Let’s not run around with our standards slips showing. Know what the important details are, and invest in them. The results will astound you.

15 August 2007
I spent yesterday at a local spa, working out the kinks, of which there were a lot more than I realized. I started going to that spa when they opened six or seven years ago, and back then, the owner gave me a tour. It was the kind of tour all of us would give if we had just spent nearly a million dollars building our dream business. Yes, it was a tour of the facilities, but really, it was an excursion through all of her hopes and expectations.
I remember her focus on building a European spa with the peaceful visual, audio and olfactory stimulation a person wants when they set aside time and money to unwind. She had splurged on tapestries and paint, sound systems and furniture, products and linens. It was over-the-top ornate, and as she described what she was trying to accomplish, it made complete sense. I really enjoyed that tour, and her enthusiasm for what she wanted to create for her customers.
Over the years I have noticed a slight, ongoing decline in her standards. The robes have become frayed and have not been replaced, nor have the towels, which have become thin. The Kleenex boxes in the ladies’ lounge are the industrial type, hard on the skin and hard on the eye. The paint is peeling in a number of places, and has not been repaired. A hair dryer broke but was left hanging on the wall. Shower heads are gummed with hard water which affects them mechanically and visually. Of greater concern are the people. Good massage therapists and aestheticians don’t last long . The practitioners who stay convey both overtly and covertly their dissatisfaction with their jobs.
What happened? Two things. First, the owner doesn’t understand that the primary responsibility of any business owner is to provide excellent, confidence-building leadership to their staff, whom they must treat with great regard. Second, she doesn’t understand that it’s all the little details that count.
I got a whiff of the leadership faltering within the first year or two. After building this magnificent spa – and getting her contractor’s license to do it – the owner was swept up with a passion for building and decided to start building houses. Taking her eye off her core revenue driver, she left the spa group to a succession of store managers who were unable to provide anything but day-to-day firefighting. This particular owner is capable of leadership but not providing it (IMHO). Some owners aren’t even capable of leadership – in which case they need to recognize that honestly and put someone in place who is. There’s another reality that goes with leadership, and that’s that the people who work for you clamor for your attention and development at all times. If you’re not in the trenches with them, appreciating them as humans and seeing directly what they do well and where they could improve, they become no more than a bunch of people who want to suck your payroll budget dry every two weeks and your energy dry every day. The ability to appreciate people is not equal among all business leaders, but even someone who is capable of it will not be able to adequately demonstrate it if they don’t know their people well. 
Now to the details. Have you ever been in a home that was well built with nice flowing lines and energy movement, and then noticed that the cheapest faucet and light fixtures were used? Or that the molding wasn’t completed in some places? Have you ever been to a lovely dinner party where great attention was paid to place settings and ambiance, but the food was clearly substandard? It’s the details that affect our impressions and experiences, and businesses forget this at their own risk.
The critical details differ from business to business. If a business chooses lowest-price-always as its business proposition, then details around store set-up have to reinforce the impression that everything is dedicated to keeping prices down. Putting plush waiting areas and expensive fixtures around the store will cause consumers to wonder how much lower their prices could have been. If a business chooses product superiority as their business proposition, failing to hire an appropriate industrial designer could tank the product even if the insides are great. And if a business chooses customer intimacy as its business proposition (really, the only strong option for a spa), then fails to pay appropriate attention to things like plushness of towels and softness of Kleenex, the substandard aspects of the experience will register with customers whether they realize that’s what they’re doing or not.
Will the spa stay in business? Yes, I think it will. Will they make money? Yes, probably even that. But will they achieve their true potential in earnings and customer retention? Likely not. And that’s unfortunate, because the idea is a good one.
Let’s not run around with our standards slips showing. Know what the important details are, and invest in them. The results will astound you.

(c) Andrea M. Hill, 2007

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