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What NASA Taught Us About Service

This year is the 50th anniversary of our first moon landing. As a huge astronomy geek and NASA fan, I thought this was a great week to talk about what we can learn from this historic journey.

This was an event the world shared as it held its collective breath and watched Neil Armstrong take those amazing first steps. Now we celebrate this accomplishment and look toward future lunar missions with our final destination being Mars.

So what can we learn from this historic event?

Set a Bold Goal

There is power in setting a specific and powerful call to action. You can push the boundaries and inspire your team to do more than anyone thinks is possible. In a 1962 speech President John F. Kennedy did just that when he invoked our pioneer spirit to tackle the frontier of space.

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." -President John F. Kennedy

And we did it.

Sometimes your teams are surprised by what they can accomplish and as a leader it's up to you to unlock that potential. Often that means saying "yes" to a goal when you haven't quite figured out how to get there and pushing your team a bit for the good of your customers. This is where you can push the boundaries of your organization, break down barriers, and keep your customers at the center of your thinking. Why can't product defects be 10% less? Why not push for 15% higher top box scores? Or is it possible to shave a minute from transaction times without sacrificing quality? Communicate your vision with passion and specificity - and then ensure the resources needed to achieve success are available.

Take No Chances with Quality

When it came to food, NASA wasn't taking any chances with food safety. Can you think of a worse place for food poisoning than outer space? NASA worked with Pillsbury and the US Army Laboratories to comes up with a process called HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). This process helps ensure that food is safe to eat through a systematic and measurable process. This has become the gold standard in the food business.

The correlation here is very clear. What is your process for ensuring quality. Remember that being nice is only part of the experience equation. Quality of whatever product or service you provide is paramount to customer satisfaction - it's price of entry. When you couple that quality with hospitality and ease, then you start to build exceptional experiences that grow loyalty. Depending on your business this could be timeliness of designs, accuracy of financial reports, a delicious cheeseburger, or an on time flight. Whatever your "product" is, be great at it, be proud of it, and protect it fiercely.

Always Think About What's Next

It is easy to think about what we are working on currently in our business. That is safe and comfortable - and surefire way to bore our customers to death. The space program was founded on the notion of what was next. We conquered the seas, discovered new lands, took to the sky - and the natural evolution was space. We stared at the moon for generations wanting to take that step, and in 1969 we did just that. Now we set our sites on Mars. Why? Because that is next.

Customers want both baseline execution and innovation all in the same breath. I always recommend erring on the side of being really good at what you are doing right now, but never take your eye off of what is next in your industry. I attended a Chamber of Commerce Meeting this week in Florida, and that was a big topic of conversation. The power of innovation and continuous change cannot be ignored when it comes to building loyalty. But often these are not wholesale changes, but rather small, impactful innovations that keep customers interested. Subway does this well by simply changing bread or bread toppings and Hot Head Burritos will rotate in limited time only sauces. Of course some, like Universal Studios Orlando, re-imagine an entire attraction such as with their Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure.

Be Ready to Course-Correct Along the Way

As the lunar module was coming in for its first landing on the moon's surface there was quite a bit going sideways. There were multiple alarms sounding and the limits of the 1960's computing power was being tested in real time. When Neil Armstrong was able to see the computer generated landing site it was revealed to be a boulder strewn area not suitable for a touch down. With about 1:30 of fuel remaining he managed to navigate to a more desirable location and land safely.

Business is a fluid affair and customers are constantly letting us know what they like and don't like about our business. Be sure to keep their feedback in mind and change as needed based on what you hear. This is also a time to think about in-the-moment miscues where service recovery is needed. Making sure that Guests leave happy and satisfied (even if there is a problem) is an important part of great daily service. For more on service recovery, check out my earlier article: When it Comes to Service Recovery, be sure to L.E.A.R.N.

So as we continue to celebrate this historic achievement and look to what's next in our space program, take the time to learn from these heroes and their accomplishments.

Thanks for keeping your customers at the center of everything you do.


Tony Johnson, CCXP Customer Experience (CX) Leader | Author | Speaker

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