Everyone's heard of the marketing mix. It's the four "P's" of marketing: Product, Price, Promotion, and Place (or distribution). The marketing mix applies to manufacturing companies. As a service company, you've got to add at least one more "P" — People. People are an intricate part of a service company's marketing mix. People are part of the service product, yet they are not the product, per se. Your people are a separate
distinctive part of your mix. They deserve just as much attention as you devote to the other elements of the marketing mix.

Sometimes it's the simplest of things that can provide that added edge. If you hire well to begin with, and treat your people well on top of it,
you would be surprised what the addition of a little special attention and hoopla can do. One example is American Airlines' Customer Comes First award. This is primarily an award of recognition (all winners receive a special watch) for exemplary customer service. It's not a big financial payoff. Yet, the winners of this award describe it like an athlete might discuss winning an Olympic medal years after the fact.

How effective is the American award? Well, read some of the stories:

Carter Bibbey was a gate agent in Boston who drove four hours at his own expense, on his own time, after getting off work at midnight to deliver a frantic customer a set of lost luggage that the customer had earlier explained was essential to his ability to conduct a training seminar a few hours later (the luggage contained slides and collateral material for a seminar).

Ron Holthouser, a facilities maintenance mechanic, took it upon himself and at his own expense to mail people their luggage tags with a note of apology when they became detached. Counted among those impacted by his actions was a senior executive at General Motors, who had a bad experience and swore that neither he nor anyone working for him would ever fly American again, at least that was his attitude until the luggage tag and apology arrived from Holthouser. Holthouser concluded that "Little things do mean a lot. Anyone, no matter what your job, can really make a difference."

Cherrie Webber, a customer service manager in Buffalo, spent every Saturday morning for months helping a passenger overcome a fear of flying. Webber took the passenger to empty planes to practice sitting in the cabin while Webber went through the flight procedure. When the passenger was finally ready to fly, Webber offered to fly to whatever airport the gentleman found himself if he got panicked and fly back with him.

Flight attendant Jeannie Wilson was moved by a small, scared, upset girl flying by herself, following the funeral of her grandmother who had raised her from birth. Using a pillow and sewing kit, she constructed an angel doll for the distraught little girl. Fourteen years later, she received a surprise tap on her shoulder from the girl she helped a decade and a half ago. The girl had grown up, but continued to search for the flight
attendant who made the angel doll, which the girl described as her "lifeline" and her "only friend" at one time.

These are just a few of the stories. There are numerous instances where American personnel loaned their personal cars to passengers so they could make a presentation on time or so they could return to pick up something they had forgotten for their trip. There are instances where mail clerks found damaged mail in the "misdirected" mail bin and took the trouble to find who sent it, then return it. These things have become an ordinary occurrence with American. They don't promote them well or their stories would be better known. However, they do illustrate the power of a little recognition.

How do you recognize superior service? Do you spend as much time on your people as you do on your pricing? Think about it.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.