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December 22, 2020

The Four Rs of Service

Adam Cuppy



Advisor / Founding Partner
Medford, OR

It's safe to assume most consumers believe good service is a prerequisite to being a high-quality company. What's good service, however? What's the boundary between good, excellent, and exceptional?

Limitations exist

Early in my professional career, I worked for a coffee company known for its incredible service. That's not to say its employees would do anything you ask; there is a limit. They never ordered pizzas, nor did we rebook a missed doctor's appointment. While you can request a drink with any combination of flavors, they offer only a single brand of syrups. They don't serve a competitor's coffee beans, and they won't even teach you how to make your drink. Their exceptional service has a limit. 

If I say, "ZEAL's service is #1," what do I mean? It's not that we'll do anything for anyone. We won't make a community forum for white nationalists, nor will we knowingly build a supply chain management system for a drug cartel. There is a limit to what we'll do to serve someone.

The root of "service" is to "serve." deliver, give, and contribute. When we're "of service," we work to contribute something of exceptional value to particular folks with specific needs under certain conditions. As you know, we can't be everything to everyone, but how often do we assume we can serve anyone anything at any time?

For years, I saw exceptional service as a willingness to do "whatever it took," and I've come to realize how that approach can have disastrous consequences. Offering to be exceptional at something you're not excellent at is a risky bet.

Service is a binary act.

In 2002, I was in acting school. During an audition, the director was so impressed he offered me a role on the spot. There was one condition: I had to play the piano. Now, I read music (I'm a signer), and I could play the piano (with one hand). I accepted the role and worked to be exceptional at the piano. 

With four weeks to dedicate, I rented a piano and started practicing. One week before opening, the director asked to hear my progress. It was horrible and incredibly embarrassing (I can see his face to this day). I lost all of the exceptionalism I built up in an instant.

The real issue was not that I couldn't play or that I couldn't learn; he could have overcome those issues. The problem was that it was a week before opening, and the director's options were minimal at that point. In a sense, I took exceptionalism out of his hands; he had to settle. 

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan wrote one of history's most iconic lines, "Do or do not; there is no try" (said by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back). We're achieving the goal, or we're falling short.

How do you handle coming up short? How might I have managed my piano debacle (other than going back in time and rejecting the role)?


If I can't satisfy this need, can I serve a deeper, more meaningful one?... 


If I can't align with your expectations, can we update them?...


If I can't serve your request, can we define it in a way where my expertise might apply?...


If I can't do it, who can? And can I connect those dots?

Whether this path or another works better, in any case, the result is the same: you're of service.

| Photo by Masaaki Komori

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