By Tim Hayes []

Blokeline’s Bakery had the market cornered.  Incredibly tasty treats at fair prices.  Easily accessible, a natural stop for folks like us to make on the way home from church on Sunday.  You could hardly get into the parking lot, that’s how popular the place was.

Sure, there were some lines inside.  And sure, sometimes they ran out of your favorite donut or bread or pie.  A small price to pay, because you knew that whatever they had left in stock was just as good, and worth the wait.

But the most distinctive part of the Blokeline’s experience came when your turn finally arrived, and you were greeted by some of the crustiest, surliest, most cantankerous old bakery ladies in three counties.  Seemingly lifted straight out of a Frank Capra movie, the villainous biddies of Blokeline’s had become legendary for their curtness, lack of patience, and all around air of world-weary “I-don’t-give-a-blank” attitude.  Think Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi” behind a glass case of crullers.

Yet the blending of heavenly pastries and hellish service combined to make a trip to Blokeline’s the total sensory happening.  “Kiss me/kick me,” glazed or powdered.  And people came from all over town to get in on the freaky fun.

Over time, though, another bakery about five miles and across the river from Blokeline’s opened.  Their goodies were just as good, even better.  They added new twists to old favorites.  They never stopped thinking, innovating, expanding.  And, as big as they grew, they never made you feel like you were being inconvenienced – and every one of their employees treated customers with a pleasant, helpful, positive demeanor.

Service counts.  I know fantastic entrepreneurial writers who struggle needlessly because they believe talent alone is enough to win new business and expand existing business.  It’s not.  Clients need to know they’re valued.  That they come first.  That they will not be surprised by invoices.  That they are getting your absolute total focus and unquestioned best effort.

I had a new client relationship begin a little ways back.  We met and discussed the scope of work for a six-month engagement, complete with clear deliverables and deadlines.  After meeting with the client to present the second batch of deliverables on the appointed date, I looked across the conference table.  Each of the three officials from the client’s organization stared at me with expressions somehow blending disbelief, gratitude, and even flashes of joy.  It was downright unsettling.

I asked whether they were all right, and the lead person nodded his head and simply said, “You did what you said you would do.”  As if this were the most shocking achievement they had ever witnessed.  But I realized later, that’s exactly what it represented to them.  How sad.

I like to believe that most professionals in this profession eagerly take responsibility and accept accountability for their work.  They do their best and treat their clients fairly, honestly, and with respect.  They do what they say they will do, just like the heroes in Frank Capra movies.  Those who don’t, don’t last.

The bakery across the river and five miles out of the way eventually wiped out Blokeline’s.  Customers realized they’d rather make the longer trip to get great products and a pleasant welcome, than to stop by the old familiar place only to lock horns with a grumpy old lady.  The novelty had worn off in favor of an experience based on helpfulness, courtesy, and gratitude for the customer’s visit.

Because no matter what your business – and that includes leadership communications – service counts.

Copyright 2010 Transverse Park Productions LLC