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“The bigger a company gets, the smaller it has to act.”

That’s a quote from John Moore, author of the book Tribal Wisdom and former marketing director at Starbucks. And it’s pretty relevant to a national grounds care company whose lifeblood is local franchisees. We think there’s something to be learned there.

Because, if there’s any big company that’s learned to “act small,” it’s Starbucks. Back in the 90s, the chain grew so quickly that it began to overrun small coffee shops in local communities. People started joking about seeing a Starbucks on every corner, and in some cases, it wasn’t a joke. Quality declined, consistency wavered, and service no longer claimed top priority. In fact, Starbucks didn’t have a very good relationship with customers, who saw them as the embodiment of corporate culture.

Luckily, a phenomenal leadership team saw the downward trend, and had the vision to turn it around. Starbucks started acting like a small coffee shop, instead of competing with small coffee shops. Today, there aren’t as many retail locations, but profits are much higher. Ask any coffee drinker, and they’ll tell you why.

Starbucks has good coffee, but more importantly, they have excellent service.

Last year before the conference, a Home Office employee stopped at her usual Starbucks, grumbling about having to catch a very early flight to Baltimore. The barista bought her latte and thanked her for being a good customer.

That’s a big company acting small. It’s a national chain providing local service. (Sound familiar?) When Starbucks baristas deliver that kind of service, they create brand loyalty—otherwise known as 100% Client Retention. They make 100% Customer Satisfaction look easy… and certainly attainable.

Starbucks isn’t the only big company who dominates the market by “acting small.” Retailers like Amazon and Zappos are not only huge companies, but they’re completely online. Customers don’t even have a brick-and-mortar location in which to have personal encounters with employees; and yet, people continually rave about the service. Amazon has disrupted the market so much that big booksellers like Borders have been forced to shut their doors. DVD rental stores like Blockbuster are a thing of the past. Like Starbucks, Amazon has found a way to dominate the market by acting like a small retailer. (A small retailer that just happens to have everything you might every want to purchase, that is.)

U.S. Lawns needs to remember that we, too, can dominate the market. And we don’t have to be anything other than who we are: a big company who acts small. “National strength, local commitment, and the power of the network,” as we say. Nobody else in the industry can deliver that.

100% Customer Satisfaction is so crucial because that’s what “acting small” means. It’s what local commitment means. And that’s the piece that gives us our competitive advantage. What’s more, if we take our cue from businesses like Starbucks, we’ll see that this kind of radical personalization of an industry that has previously acted highly impersonal can allow us to change the marketplace in ways that are revolutionary. It will put us on top, in a really big way.

As we ramp up to this year’s conference, we’d like to challenge all of you to consider this radical personalization. 100% Client Retention is a part of that. 100% Customer Satisfaction is a part of that. All the other things we’ve blogged about in connection with that initiative are a part of that. The Customer Connection is just another way of saying it.

Right now, commercial grounds care is undergoing some changes as an industry. These changes will make things more impersonal, not less. This is our chance to leverage our service excellence to completely change the game. Because it’s not how big you are that matters; it’s how small you act.

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