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VOL. 40 | NO. 22 | Friday, May 27, 2016

A lesson from Oprah: Don’t screw up Oprah’s party

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The service industry just isn’t what it used to be. Mediocre is the norm, and attention to detail seems all but lost in this fast-paced world.

That’s why companies that actually deliver on what they say they will, when they say they will, stand a breed apart.

I was reminded of this basic service philosophy when reading an article in the Charlotte Observer. It was the story of how a Charlotte-based event-planning business lost one of the country’s most high-profile clients – Oprah Winfrey.

It perfectly illustrates how the devil is in the details, and how life-altering disappointment can reshape a company.

Clarke Allen had recently planned two high-profile events for Maya Angelou. Winfrey had been in attendance at both, so she witnessed his work firsthand.

However, when the call came from Winfrey herself in 2013 to coordinate a party for her directly, it was still nothing less than astonishing. After the shock wore off, Allen realized what this could mean for his business.

Soon, this career high turned into panic, however, when Allen realized that an employee neglected to send a package with the invitation samples that Winfrey had requested. The media mogul called him directly to explain that the error was unacceptable.

An intern at Allen’s firm then rushed to ship the package and make it right, but in the haste of it, accidentally misspelled the street name on the package.

Unaware of the mistake, Allen received a call from Winfrey. She acknowledged what this event could have done for his career and business, but said he wasn’t ready.

She encouraged Allen to surround himself with better people, then she pulled the business from Allen’s firm.

Naturally, Allen was devastated. However, he eventually learned what a gift she had given him.

She was coaching him. The message was clear. Hire people with the same concern for your clients, who care for your brand, and who share the same attention to detail and follow-through that you have.

Empower them to do what they do best, but always hold them accountable.

If you are in a service business with similar client standards, adopt an applicant-screening test for candidates that measures their aptitude for quality work and their sense of follow-through.

Build checks and balances into your service processes to help support them in their ability to deliver for your clients.

Lastly, establish service metrics for your team and hold them accountable.

Attention to detail and a commitment to follow-through can make the difference between a mediocre business and a high-performance organization.

In the words of Malcolm Gladwell, there is a “tipping point” at which the little things make a big difference.

That tipping point can work for you or against you, depending upon whether those little things are positive or negative.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing, www.redrovercompany.com, with offices in Memphis and Nashville. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).

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