From the July 1996 issue of Entrepreneur

How much do customers value good service? Enough to shell out more money-as much as 10 percent-for the same merchandise but better treatment, according to authors Karen Leland and Keith Bailey in Customer Service for Dummies (IDG Books, $19.99 paper).

Of course, you probably don't need much convincing to accept the notion that first-rate customer service is a prerequisite for any company's success. But, as the authors so astutely point out, there's a world of difference between good intentions and good follow-through.

To measure how well your business walks the walk, so to speak, Leland and Bailey provide a service questionnaire you can use. Once you assess your company's weaknesses, you'll have a better idea of which chapters you should pay the closest attention to.

Interestingly, the authors encourage business owners to think of their employees as customers, too. "Too often we limit our definition of a customer to someone who is outside of our company," they lament. "The other half of the picture is the people who work inside your company and rely on you for the services, products, and information that they need to get their jobs done. They are not traditional customers, yet they need the same tender, loving care you give to your external customers." Makes a lot of sense to the non-dummies among us, doesn't it?

Management Of The Absurd

Any management book that concludes with a chapter titled "My Advice Is Don't Take My Advice" is bound to raise a few eyebrows-and for good reason. But don't read Richard Farson's Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership (Simon & Schuster, $21 cloth) for its entertainment value. Rather, read it to challenge your own assumptions.

"Examining the absurd is not just a playful exercise," Farson stresses. "I believe that many programs in management training today . . . fail to appreciate the complexity and paradoxical nature of human organizations."

Without question, Farson faces an uphill battle. He asks readers to believe that effective managers are not in control and that praise can actually be a bad thing. Even worse, he makes you question the very traits you most pride yourself on.

"Strengths can become weaknesses when we rely too much on them, carry them to exaggerated lengths, or apply them where they don't belong," he warns.

It's just that sort of statement that forces readers to do some serious thinking of their own. And that, undoubtedly, is the author's intention.

Jamming

If you're hoping to enhance your creativity as an entrepreneur, you might want to listen to a stack of John Coltrane records. Follow that up with an earful of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Once you get into the groove, you'll be all the more prepared to delve into Jamming: The Art andDiscipline of Business Creativity (HarperBusiness, $23 cloth).

Author John Kao cleverly likens the creativity in jazz music to the creativity in business. Think it's a stretch? Not really, considering that both encourage freedom within a set of established guidelines. "Like jazz, creativity has its vocabulary and conventions," writes Kao, himself a jazz pianist. "As in jazz, too, its paradoxes create tensions. It demands free expressiveness and disciplined self-control, solitude in a crowded room, acceptance and defiance, serendipity and direction."

The title of Kao's book springs, of course, from that magical moment in music whereby inspiration gives way to innovation. You can jam in business, too-what else are brainstorming sessions for?-which makes Kao's metaphor such a good one.