It’s All About “Paying It Forward”

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

Basil Bacall

Basil Bacall

We meet many top executives and developers in our work at the City of Auburn Hills.  Many of these people have risen through the ranks in the business world due to their integrity, perseverance, and character.  However, over the years, there’s one person in particular that has made a strong impression on our team … Basil Bacall.

Basil’s story is quite remarkable.  Click here to read more about this successful hotel owner and philanthropist, who has been living the American Dream – with a passion like few others – since immigrating 32 years ago to Detroit.

Recently, Basil and his protegé Randy Searles II spent some time with us to share some of their thoughts about customer service.  We asked them to tell us how Auburn Hills could improve in this area.  It was a time of honest and open dialogue.  The advice was priceless.

Here’s what they told us:

  • It’s an attitude.  Customer service is an “attitude” from top down.  This attitude must be ingrained in the Auburn Hills’ organizational culture.  It has to be intentional, practiced, and celebrated.  Customer service must be your Number One priority.  No ifs, ands, or buts.
  • It doesn’t have to be costly.  Goodwill is a product of servanthood which creates unstoppable momentum.  Great service is the cheapest, most cost-effective way to keep a customer happy and foster growth.  A smile costs nothing, only effort.
  • Be the best.  If you’re the best, the money will come (a.k.a., new investment / tax dollars).  Auburn Hills seeks loyal customers, just like businesses do.  It’s a lot like the old TV show Cheers.  Your attitude must be personal.  People want to be treated with respect and be part of a friendly environment (i.e., The Golden Rule).  Forget about your problems and get inside the customer’s head … serve them.  Many government agencies give the impression that they just don’t care.
  • You’re being watched closely.  If someone has a disappointing experience, they may never give you a second chance and will tell others about your failures.  Thus, everyone in the Auburn Hills’ organization must be cognizant of customer service and be “on their game” every day.  The stakes are high when you represent the public trust.
  • It’s OK to fail.  Your employees and yourself will fail often.  How will you address those failures?  Empower people to find ways to resolve conflict within boundaries.  Practice it.  The way Auburn Hills resolves its failures makes all the difference in forming its reputation for excellence.
  • Get the right people on your team.  Customer service has to be part of an individual’s nature.  You can’t fake it.  If you have the wrong people on the bus, they need to change or they need to find another place of employment that fits with their personality.  Hiring the right people is so critical.
  • It’s contagious.  The way Auburn Hills’ leaders treat their employees and volunteers defines how those good people treat their customers.  Do you honor them?  Do you respect them?  Do you help them?  Do you care about them?   Your co-workers are your customers, perhaps the most important ones, since you spend all day with them.  It takes a lot of work to develop relationships, but we’re put on this earth to be relational people.
  • Look for ways to exceed expectations.  What’s a crisis to the customer may not be a crisis to you.  Their crisis may be crazy and illogical to your view of the world, but it’s important to them and it matters.  You must empathize with them and show them that you care.  If you don’t care about people, then get out of the service business.

Basil concluded the talk with this final piece of advice.  He suggested that we should focus on customer service because it’s an investment in the future of the City.  Creating goodwill and trust with people is all about “paying it forward.”  Growth is always an organic by-product of a culture of servanthood.  Wow!  We left the conversation inspired to help our organization improve itself in this critical area.

It’s written, “Walk with the wise and become wise.”  We’re very fortunate to have someone like Basil Bacall in our midst who’s willing to walk with our team and challenge us to get better.  He tells us that success begins and ends with an attitude of service to others.  Let us never lose track of that simple truth.