The Devil’s in the Details

Pragmatic Sales Psychology” short episode series, writing #12” 

Since Prospects International has a very diverse and expanding client base, I would like to state that this is a psychological, not a theological, writing. Although many of us may believe in the presence of evil forces, this article has nothing to do with religious ideologies and the reference is purely symbolic. I preach about selling, selling and marketing. Relative to spiritual preaching, as Chevy Chase said in Family Vacation, “I’m not an ordained minister.”   

The devil in this context is the symbol of “things that can go wrong”, should you not pay attention to the details of a thing. Your reputation is tied to your client’s experience which is directly affected by your company’s attention to detail. Allow me to give an example or two.

Here’s a couple of common scenarios:

You purchase something for your home, say, a coffee table, which alerts you to the fact that there is “some assembly required.” It ships on time and you lay everything out on the carpet so you can put it together in your den, where it will live. While perusing the parts, you realize that a couple of critical parts were not loaded into the package, and you do not have everything you need to assemble your new piece of furniture. I need not explain the string of inconveniences that come next.   

You use a bookkeeping application for your business, which forces you to use a new, updated version, although you are comfortable and satisfied with the 1.0 version you’ve used for years. The old one has recurring invoices programmed and all of your clients’ payment info stored, along with info of the other parties that need to be cc’d all transactions. The new system comes online and the old one gets discontinued, and you have no option but to go along with the transition. Not long after the new system goes live, you realize you have to reprogram a lot of the previously stored info into the new system. The bookkeeping company’s lack of foresight cost you some serious time; time it takes to get things back to normal, plus some customer service explanations along the way. They should have made for a seamless transition but the coding was never authorized to do such, a detail that slipped through the corporate cracks. The Devil is indeed in the details. They lost several unhappy clients as a result of the inconvenience.

One last example, the most emotionally charged one: You take your wife to your anniversary dinner at that perfect night spot. You call ahead to be sure they have the champagne and cut of filet she prefers. You also have a local florist deliver a vase of fresh cut flowers to set the stage. All should be lined up for a perfectly nostalgic and romantic evening. Unfortunately, the florist writes down the wrong date, the bar manager doesn’t order enough champagne, and the only possible saving grace, the 6 ounce filet being cooked to perfection, ends up medium-plus instead of medium rare…and of course, has to be sent back. Details: the night was less than magic, all because the details you so carefully managed were not, in turn, so carefully managed by the other parties involved.   

My freshman year in high school, I had the advantage of having a great English teacher. Her name was Mrs. Wildman. She was passionate about the language and literature, and it showed in her delivery and commitment to how important she believed it was that young people understand good writing and the classics. I remember seeing a specific word written across one student’s paper when she felt that their effort was not up to par. The word was: slipshod. Here is a definition: (typically of a person or method of work) characterized by a lack of care, thought, or organization. “He’d caused many problems with his slipshod management”

Details are never unimportant where the client experience is concerned. Your attention to detail is the customer’s barometer regarding how much they perceive that they mean to you. From the top to the bottom and all the way back up again, your company culture, and commitment to excellence in what you do, is determined by how much attention to detail you and your people demand of themselves.  

Companies can grow organically from within based upon a commitment to “babysitting” details. Ignored or mishandled details can be very costly. Properly managed details can make you a hero. I would vote that the latter is the desired result. So be on guard against apathy; it is the first cousin of mismanaged details.   

It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen – John Wooden 

Jack Klinefelter
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