The not-so-secret secret

by Dr. Anthony Paustian, the author of A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, & Leading Transformative Change

Over the years, I’ve been asked a number of times how to creatively develop and maintain a competitive advantage in an environment marked by rapid changes in technology, fluid delivery systems, intense competition, real-time communication and instant (and often brutal) customer “experience” reports through social media.

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear about someone bemoaning a poor customer service experience. In fact, I believe customer service has gotten so bad that some people generally seem to expect a bad experience. As a result, I believe we have lowered our bar to the point where we now just tolerate being treated poorly.

Although I do think it’s becoming more difficult to maintain an advantage, I believe there is a solution … perhaps even the solution. Here’s the “secret” competitive advantage solution, especially if you’re trying to build a positive personal or organizational image: Create a culture of above-and-beyond service. This will immediately place you ahead of most, if not all, of the competition.

Success comes by helping others get what they want. Go beyond the Golden Rule. In other words, treat people BETTER than you would want to be treated.

When I was a child, my father regularly told me that if you borrow something from someone, always return it in better condition than when you received it. Then others will be willing to help you again if you need it. When people come to you for what you provide, they are investing their time and possibly their money. Give them back something of greater value.

If people believe you truly care and will take care of them first and foremost, they will follow your leadership, believe in your ideas and give you their business, even if what you’re offering doesn’t have all of the latest bells and whistles. Bottom line: Regardless of anything else, people’s perception of an experience still comes down to how they feel.

Recently, my wife and I took a short vacation to Telluride, Colorado. We went there to relax, do a little hiking and enjoy the beautiful scenery (which was breathtaking). Without any prior experience, we booked a room at the Inn at Lost Creek in the adjacent town of Mountain Village. We chose this property only because they were pet-friendly, because we had our dog in tow. We knew nothing else about it.

From the moment we arrived, the staff was “over-the-top” friendly. They asked us for our names (including the dog’s), and NEVER forgot them. In fact, every time we walked by, they would say “hello” and address us by name. Whenever I walked the dog, they treated her like she was their own, also addressed her by name and offered her treats. (They even provided us a special pet basket at check-in full of treats, a mini-flashlight for night walking, and waste bags.)

A member of the staff provided us with a short tour of the property to ensure we knew where all of the amenities were located. He made sure we also knew that all snacks and bottled water were free and emphasized that if we ever needed more or anything else to let him know. The complimentary breakfast was incredible, and large, fresh-baked cookies were always available in the main lobby (something I overindulged on because, frankly, they were awesome).

Every time anyone saw us over the course of our three days there, we were asked how our stay was going and if we needed anything. And it didn’t matter who was working at the time. Everyone had the same exceptionally positive attitude and treated us with the same high level of care and respect. They even made sure we had bottled water, snacks and a package of dog treats for the road when we departed.

The staff made us feel extremely special – almost as if we were the only guests they had. We were so taken aback by the experience, we found ourselves talking about it the whole time we were there and even after we had left. It was incredible, and because of this level of service, this is now the ONLY place we will ever stay when we return. And, of course, we will now tell everyone we know about the Inn at Lost Creek and perhaps even blog about it.

People value most how you make them feel. They will ultimately act based on those feelings. So give them something worth their investment of support, time and money.

If you make them feel special, they will reward you with their long-term loyalty. By proactively building an image of service to others, you will create a sustainable competitive advantage, despite what others ­– including your competition – are doing.

©2016  Anthony D. Paustian

PaustianLargeHeadDr. Anthony Paustian is the author of four books including his most recent, A Quarter Million Steps. For more information, please visit his website at


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