A long, long time ago when the earth was cooling, the humble gas station was the epitome of service. And we didn’t even realize it at the time.

When you pulled into the gas station, your entire car would be gassed, tires checked, oil checked, and windows all wiped, all without you leaving the car. At the time, this service was not considered exceptional; it was expected. Today, these kinds of services would be considered incredible and probably have you peeling out of there as fast as you could go because you would be expecting some kind of scam. The majority of the country would probably freak out if an attendant dashed out to fill the tank, check the oil, check the air, and wash the windows. OMG! Who IS that guy? Quick, George! Give him a dollar!

The times have changed.

Full-service gas stations are rare, but New Jersey and Oregon actually require full service. However, Oregon makes it mandatory only for cities that have a population of less than 40,000.

The point is that customer service has changed. They say that the only people who like change are wet babies and I think that’s true. Most of us are resistant to change. Even though there have been drastic quality improvements in manufacturing such as automobiles, the service industry has not seen that kind of drastic change. I think it is kind of ironic that the service industry has the most trouble increasing its level of service. There are many reasons for this, of course, with the biggest being obtaining and keeping quality employees.

Another reason is that service is incredibly difficult to measure, being very subjective. Because of that, management usually measures what is objective and easy, which usually means measuring costs and then cutting costs, because they are easy to measure. Take a wild guess what cost is usually chosen to be cut. If you answered service, you’d be right.

One more problem of service is that the repercussions of bad or good service is that it is not quick, not instantaneous. It takes a relatively long time for bad service or good service to affect sales. This time delay makes it even more difficult to measure and since most companies are more short term oriented than long term, service often takes a back seat again.

It is tough to go long term, but exceptional service is all about long term. Short term thinking is often necessary to survive, but management must continue to think long term for sustained excellence and a great competitive advantage. Service excellence is difficult, especially every day. Sometimes management must compromise to just get through the day. But don’t have the attitude that mediocre is as good as you can do. “Only the mediocre are at their best” is not a good motto.

There’s an old saying that management gets the employees that it deserves. When management expects more from their employees, they’ll usually get better employees. Employees want to be in an environment where they know that management is trying to be better than their competition. Your employees will help you get there if you try every day. Be a great manager and get the excellent employees that you deserve. Who doesn’t want the return of the humble gas station’s service?