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Developing Your Company's Credo Inspiring your employees to provide great customer service starts with figuring out just what you stand for.

Perhaps the most important factor in the success of any company, especially a new one, is customer service. It's a proven fact that a restaurant with good food and great customer service will be very successful, while a restaurant with great food but poor service will be out of business before you can say "Reservation, please."

It's easy to say "We'll provide great service to our customers," but it's somewhat more difficult to actually do it. Just how can you initiate and maintain dedication to excellent service, both in yourself and in your employees? One important step is to create a company credo that reflects your strong belief in servicing your customers well.

Despite the importance of having a company credo, many entrepreneurs skip past this step when it comes to starting their businesses. Perhaps they feel the company's credo is self-evident; perhaps they can't find the time to create it.

We all know that starting a business is controlled chaos. It's an exciting, crazy time, and entrepreneurs are wearing 20 different hats trying to "get it all done." With so much going on, many entrepreneurs put what they think are lesser issues on a backburner--they don't take time to create their mission statement, values or credo. Even if they acknowledge its importance, they think, "I'll get to that later when I have more time."

But have you ever noticed that time doesn't grow? We always think we're going to have more time one day, but we actually have less. In some weird way, time does go by faster and faster.

If you're one of the ones wondering just what a credo is and why you need one to run your business, let me explain just why you need to sit down and put some real thought into creating your credo now.

Fast forward a year or two. Orders are coming in like there's no tomorrow, and you and your employees are on the business fast track. But it seems like the only purpose of your business is to process those transactions. Customers become order numbers; few of them become repeat customers. Employees come and go--even the good ones. And you're starting to feel like a hamster on a treadmill: You're making endless efforts without a greater purpose than a paycheck.

People don't give 100 percent of themselves for a paycheck. Without some kind of higher cause, in fact, they give much less. A good credo reminds people of why the business exists. It motivates and lifts their spirits. It's a unifying force, a statement of common values that allows your employees to understand the importance of the customer experience and to collaborate in achieving a consistently high standard. A good credo, well communicated, simply allows employees (and their boss!) to enjoy their work more.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, "credo" stands for belief. You want to start thinking about your credo by thinking about what you and your company believe in. To help you out, let's take a look at two companies you're most likely familiar with and see if you can recognize them from their credos.

This company's credo has been around for 50 years now: It's "the happiest place on earth." It's Disneyland, of course. Although there are many reasons for Disneyland's success, let's take a look at the one you can best apply to your company today.

Disney's customer service standard is so simple and yet so incredibly effective that it's been successfully adopted by many small businesses. Their customer service standard embodies the concept of being "on stage and off stage." The "off stage" area is a place for employees only--no guests are allowed in that area. And that's the only place where employees are allowed to "vent" or discuss their personal problems. But when employees walk through the doors into the main areas of the park, they're considered to be "on stage," and they have to leave all their personal problems behind. The smile that lives in their hearts comes out no matter what's going on in their lives. And they have just one goal: to make the customer happy and leave feeling like they've had the best experience of their lives. When they're "on stage," employees are dedicated to making Disneyland the "the happiest place on earth."

Many startups have just a few employees and see no need to set customer service standards in the beginning. Down the road, of course, when they start to have problems, they don't know what to do with the employee who has a bad attitude. But it's never too late to improve your customer service. Consider taking the Disneyland approach; It's simple, it's fun, and it works.

The second example of a powerful credo is one from the hospitality industry. Every time I've stayed at this particular hotel, I leave feeling like I'm a queen and that everyone has genuinely enjoyed serving me. Sounds almost impossible to get employees to treat customers like that, doesn't it?

Here's their credo: "Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." Can you guess the hotel? It's the Ritz-Carlton. And to help instill the importance of their credo, every one of the hotel's employees goes through a two-day training course before they're allowed to start working in the hotel. The credo, which is drilled into hotel staff during the training, very simply sums up how employees should think of themselves and their guests. This powerful philosophy, brilliantly expressed in a few short words, has helped make the Ritz-Carlton a huge success. Imagine how much a credo could contribute to the success of your business.

Now that you know just what a credo is and what it can do to help a company become successful, I've got a challenge for you and your staff: Give your employees one week to create a credo for your company. Then meet together one week later at a special staff meeting where that's the only topic and review everyone's credo. Brainstorm together, using your employees' credos as inspiration to help you develop your own company credo. You'll be surprised how many brilliant ideas will come from your staff, just given the chance.

Patty Vogan is Entrepreneur.com's "Leadership" columnist and owner of Victory Coaching, an executive coaching company for business and personal success, and a chairman for the largest CEO organization in the world, TEC International. She has over 15 years of experience in leadership management, team building, marketing and entrepreneurship, and is the author of two books. Her latest book,Waking Up in Tonga, will be available in December 2006.

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