Here at Fast Company it's an article of faith that we live in an economy of ideas. You can out-think the competition! By the way, did we also mention it's an article of faith that ideas are a dime a dozen, and what really matters is, Do you walk the talk? Do you implement that great idea? Do you make fast, smart decisions and demonstrate a bias for rapid, relentless action? This issue of Fast Company is full of best practice examples of people, teams, and companies that know what it takes to get things done.
While we're at it, here's another mind-flip for you: Last issue, Tom Peters wrote as only he can about The Brand Called You. Well, don't get too carried away with all that "I'm the product" stuff. If you do, you run the risk of forgetting about the most important person in your business, or any business: the customer. Our cover package for this issue is all about great customer service: what it is and how to deliver it. "How Can I Help You?" is the right question to ask — a question that takes us inside Matrixx Marketing, the best customer service organization you've never heard of. But 33 of the country's 100 largest public companies do know Matrixx — in fact, they've hired this fast-growing company to talk to their customers for them! Here are a handful of lessons that anyone can learn about delivering great service.
For more hands-on tips, we turn for advice to Don Peppers, the inventor of the hottest concept in customer service today: one-to-one marketing. Peppers pops the first question of walk-your-talk service: Do you know who your customers are? How You Can Help Them poses the four most important questions at the heart of great customer service. We get answers from organizations as diverse as PeopleSoft, Hitachi Data Systems, GE Medical Systems — and even the Willow Creek Church.
If you want to put these ideas to work in your organization, then tear out this issue's bonus section: You Are the Company! — Fast Company's definitive handbook for great customer service. We've captured a dozen all-purpose precepts and practices, and turned them into a manual anyone can use. (The CEO and "company stories" in the handbook may be mythical — but the tips and take-aways are the real thing!)
Of course, walking the talk isn't just about customer service. Greetings from Idea City takes you inside GSD&M, an ad agency based in Austin, Texas that prides itself on generating outrageous ideas - and has even built a physical environment around an idea, designed to promote still more ideas. The people at GSD&M don't just walk the talk - they link the think.
More implementation-rich stuff: Make Smarter Mistakes. Nobody's perfect. These days, the more you're getting done, the more you're probably messing up. Not career-threatening, headline-making mistakes. But mistakes nonetheless. Here are six lessons on living and learning when you find yourself limping the talk.
Want one more dose of our walk-the-talk formula? Then visit our Report from the Future section and take the ultimate test in business: Can You Perform Under Pressure? Olympic athletes can. The Navy Seals can. To learn how they convert great training into flawless performance, check out psychologist Robert Nideffer's performance guidelines — he'll have you sprinting the talk!
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.