A couple of years ago, I was standing in an unacceptably long line, waiting to pay for my purchase at a Borders. I counted ten people in front of me, six people behind me, one person working a register, and a manager who was fulfilling the role of disengaged observer. After paying for my purchase, I asked if I could have a word with him. He agreed.

Anticipating a tirade, he began apologizing for his staffing shortage and then added the following: "You know, sir, I'm not actually even supposed to be working today." I wanted to shriek, scream, or throw something, but I was too flabbergasted to express ANY emotion. I just looked at him in disbelief for about five seconds and then inquired as follows:

"Sir, I'm in the business of helping executives, entrepreneurs and companies create and sustain success. I'm always interested in the changing competitive environment and the pressure it exerts on established businesses. Can I ask you a couple of questions?" I could see the blood flow return to his face as he answered, "Yes, of course."

I continued: "If I can buy this book (pointing to my purchase) for 20 to 30 percent less money at Amazon, why should I buy it here?" His response was, and this is no lie or exaggeration, "Personal service." I asked him to explain what he meant by that. He gazed at me as if I had a third eye in the middle of my forehead and followed with, "Why don't you just return your book and buy it from Amazon!"

Now there's personal service.

Moving on: One of the things that I DO (or rather, DID) like about this chain are the kiosks that they have for customers to do "self-searches" for books. Sometimes I'm not quite sure of a title or author, and my search requires multiple inputs. Doing it myself is more expedient than feeding information over and over to a store clerk. A couple of months ago, I was shopping for a specific book at the same Borders and used a kiosk to find my book. Once I completed my search, I realized that I didn't have a pencil to write down the information. Seated next to me, a store employee was busy copying something from a printed report onto another piece of paper. I leaned over and asked, "Pardon me. I seem to have forgotten to bring a pencil. Do you have one I could borrow?" He raised his head, looked at me dismissively and said only, "no." I waited for a minute, expecting, "No, but I'll go get you one." Or "No, I'm in the middle of something. If you can wait a minute, I'll find you one." All I got was a very terse "no."

I didn't keep my cool quite as well this time. I stood up, looked at him, flailed my arms and loudly asked, "Is that IT?!" He looked at me as I continued: "A paying customer needs a pencil and rather than fetch him one, the best you can do is NO?"

He said nothing. I ran up to the check out counter and grabbed two pencils. The cashiers were giggling - probably at my histrionics. I returned to my kiosk, handed the guy one of them and said, "Here's a pencil. When the next person asks you for one, you can respond as if you value his business, rather than the way that you did!" He took the pencil without so much as raising his head or verbally responding.

In case you've missed the recent print stories about Borders, here's the short version: They are dead! They've stopped paying publishers for books. Most retail experts estimate that within 90 days, their doors will close for good. Most of these same experts, however, cite "strategy" as the reason for their demise. They were always a "day late and a dollar short" in anticipating and responding to competitive changes. While that explanation is true, it's insufficient.

For any business to succeed, sound strategy must be complemented with violent execution. I choose the word "violent" intentionally. Successful execution must be impatient, intense, enthusiastic and obsessive. It must SCREAM the following to customers: "We covet (the word 'want' simply isn't strong enough) your business and intend to prove it!" Too many people at Borders were "mailing in" their effort.

One of my favorite quotes is, "A fish rots from the head." I never met their CEO, but I wonder...

Conversely... we have Nordstrom.

Several years back I had just bought a suit at Nordstrom - a dark brown, spectacular looking Hart, Schaffner and Marx Gold Trumpeter.

It was the first time I had worn this suit and had just finished admiring myself in my bathroom mirror. Yes, I was lookin' good! Absorbed and distracted by my own studliness, I walked into my garage to get into my SUV and tore a sleeve on the rear windshield wiper. No one was around to blame. I know; I looked!

I called my sales guy, Rudolph Ruiz, and asked him if there might be a way for their tailor to somehow reweave the material to make the tear less obvious. He asked me to bring the suit in for a look-see.

A few days later, I dropped off the suit. Nordstrom's tailor later determined that its condition was irrevocable. Rudolph called to tell me the bad news, adding that he had an alternative solution and asking me to stop in to discuss it. I wondered what he had in mind until I arrived at Nordstrom and he unveiled a selection of suits from which he said I could pick a replacement - FOR FREE!

I was speechless. Nordstrom had no complicity in my stupidity and yet my sales guy volunteered a replacement, gratis! I considered the alternatives he had selected for me, which included a Joseph Abboud and a $1,200 Hickey-Freeman, made my selection and got out before Rudolph changed his mind.

Nordstrom gets it!

Here's the real deal:

If you are a CEO or if you work for a CEO - you get paid to create value for your constituents/stakeholders. That's job #1. Your primary constituents are your company's paying customers; they pay your salary. Your company is merely a pass-through mechanism. We developed the following simple seven-step process to help clients do that:

* Identify your company's targeted customers

* Discern the dimensions of value that they require

* Qualify/quantify those dimensions with performance categories and metrics

* Perform

* Measure

* Develop and implement corrective actions to fill performance gaps

* Begin again

Customer satisfaction is a never-ending process. Today's competitive advantage is tomorrow's competitive requirement. Tomorrow's competitive requirement is the next day's competitive insufficiency. Competitive strategy and relentless execution are flip sides of the same competitive coin.

Get movin'!

Copyright 2011 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit http://www.randgolletz.com.