Volume 46, Issue 7 - August 2011


#1 … 15 Years Later
by Lyle R. Hill

Note: Fifteen years ago, in July of 1996, I wrote the following article which introduced my first, and at the time only, grandchild, Jake. There are now eight more grandchildren, each uniquely wonderful and different from the other. The trees mentioned in the article have now grown quite a bit and so has Jake. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it all those years ago. -Lyle

He’s absolutely incredible. Not only is he extremely intelligent … perhaps even gifted … but he’s intuitive, good-looking, unbelievably coordinated, energetic and adorable. And I assure you that the fact that he’s my 3 1/2-year-old grandson has absolutely no influence whatsoever on my opinion of him.

His name is Jake, and I have to tell you, he’s having a dramatic impact on my life. You see, Jake is perhaps, above all else, a great teacher. There is hardly a week that goes by that Jake does not teach me some valuable insight into the meaning of life in general and the art of business in particular. If you doubt this, I dare you to go to your nearest video rental store and check out either the Lorax by Dr. Seuss (a great study in environmental protection and industrial waste), or the Sneeches on the Beaches, also by Seuss (an excellent primer on organizational behavior and motivation). If these topics don’t interest you, try the Butter Battle Story (a treatise on the dangers of the arms race and nuclear proliferation), or the Story of the Zax (an exposé on the ultimate consequences of executive obstinance). Yes, if it weren’t for Jake, I would have never known about any of this. So believe me, when Jake says, “Grandpa, do you want to watch a video with me?” I quickly respond in the affirmative because I know that the odds are very good that a valuable new learning experience awaits me.

Recently, Jake taught me an excellent lesson in customer service and, with his encouragement, I am sharing it here with you. By the way, if it turns out to be of value to you, you can send your thanks to him through me. He accepts Lego® sets, Lincoln Logs®, Dr. Seuss videos and, of course … cash. Do not send stuffed animals.

Okay, here we go …

Last weekend, Jake was helping me plant a couple of small evergreens that had been given to me as a birthday present. We dug the holes, dropped the little trees in and carefully packed the dirt in and around them. We then filled a watering pail and sprinkled the ground as recommended. When the work was done, I suggested to Jake that we go inside because the temperature was starting to drop and it was going to start raining.

Jake resisted this. He wanted to stay and watch the trees grow. I had made the mistake of telling him that if we took good care of the trees and watered them regularly, they would be bigger than him in no time. He wanted to hang around and watch this firsthand. Jake and I had reached an impasse, but because I am aware of his one genetic flaw, I knew exactly how to gain the upper hand.

“Jake,” I began, “how about we go to McDonald’s and get something to eat and then come back and check on the trees?”

“Okay, Grandpa,” he replied, but let’s go to the good McDonald’s and not a bad one.”

This confused me for a minute. Yes, Jake does know a lot of things that I don’t know. It’s also true that he has an ability to discern things that most adults lack, but what could he possibly mean by this statement? I mean, who better than McDonald’s exemplifies the highest level of consistency of product and service? And while all hamburgers may not be created equal, all McDonald’s hamburgers certainly are.

“Jake,” I asked, “which McDonald’s is the good one?”

“Don’t be silly, Grandpa,” he giggled back. “The one by the river is the good one.”

Then it hit me. He was right … as usual. There are four McDonald’s within a few minutes of my house. The menu is the same, the prices are the same and the product reputedly is the same. Of the four, one offers terrible service, two are okay, but one has a tremendous staff that is not only friendlier, but more efficient than the other three. And if the product is the product is the product, and price and travel are not a factor, why not deal with the firm that is known to have friendlier, more efficient customer-oriented service? Whatever the goods or services, heaven knows that potential customers in every field can buy it from a dozen or more places at or about the same price. But if you want to separate yourself from the rest, you better offer something different or better than the other guy.

“Okay,” I said, picking him up and hugging him, “let’s go to the good McDonald’s by the river.”

“Okay, Grandpa,” he responded.

“And by the way, Jake, if you needed a piece of glass replace, who would you call?”

He looked at me and smiled that sly little smile of his.

“C’mon,” I continued as he wiggled out of my arms, “if you needed a piece of glass replaced, who would you call? … Jake, Grandpa asked you a question … why are you giggling, Jake … Grandpa really needs an answer here … Jake, come back here …”

Lyle R. Hill is the managing director of Keytech North America, a company providing research and technical services for the glass and metal industry. Hill has more than 40 years experience in the glass and metal industry and can be reached at lhill@glass.com. You can read his blog every Wednesday at www.usgnn.com.

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