Share this:
Issue 6 | November/December 2013

From Brad

Welcome to Issue 6 of The Edge of Service. You are receiving this new newsletter as a friend or colleague, or because we've connected or interacted on service topics. If you choose, you can unsubscribe by clicking unsubscribe.

Gazing into North Korea from Dora Observatory is a bit surreal. Open only to authorized tours (most coming from Seoul, two hours to the south), this is one of several frequented stops along the demilitarized zone (DMZ), along with an education center where you can enter a series of abandoned tunnels, and a rebuilt train station that once served points to the north.

I had a free day before work commenced in Seoul (which included a keynote and workshop for APCCAL 2013, a fabulous customer service conference organized by Professor KJ Cheong and his team). Others in my tour group that day included a KLM pilot from Holland, a diabetes doctor from Shanghai, a group of students from France, and a family from Louisiana. We shared a common interest in wanting to better understand a conflict that never officially ended.

From our vista, good weather enabled us to gaze far past a massive North Korean flag in the distance, to a smattering of roads, villages and industrial areas on the horizon. It was heartbreaking to contemplate the poverty, oppression and fear of those to the north (Kim Jong Un has since executed his uncle and, as of this writing, is sending hundreds of his extended family members to prison camps). It was impossible not to draw a contrast with the dynamism of South Korea, home of Samsung, Gangnam Style, and the most tech-connected society in the world (78% of the population uses smartphones).

The DMZ tour was the last place I expected to get inspiration on vision. I hope you enjoy this issue. Best wishes for a great 2014!

Warm Regards,

Brad Cleveland

Hands-On Vision

Please enable pictures on your device for full story

Dorasan Station, the last stop on our tour of the DMZ, is a railway station that initially opened in 1906 and once linked Seoul and Pyongyang. It was destroyed in the Korean Conflict but restored within the last decade, with help from thousands of private donors.

The rebuilding was a labor of love, with hopes that the rail line would once again reunite the North and the South. In 2007 and 2008, trains did, for a time, shuttle South Korean workers to and from the Kaesong Industrial Region just inside the North Korean border. But the experiment was discontinued by the North Korean government and no trains currently serve the North.

Some see the eerily empty station as a symbolic reminder of an intractable separation between North Korea and its neighbors. But on a wall inside, there is a map that captures a powerful vision. It illustrates a rail route that connects South Korea to Pyongyang, passing through North Korea to China, Russia, Mongolia, and beyond. Our young Korean guide was matter-of-fact: "Someday, this station will be part of a system that connects North Korea, China, Russia, and even Eurorail." She added with a smile, "It will open up so much opportunity for so many."

Dorasan Station, Exterior

Dorasan Station, Exterior

Map of Potential Rail System Poster Inside Terminal

Map of Potential Rail System

Poster Inside Terminal

No one in my group doubted her. I suppose a printed map could have conveyed much the same concept. But we were standing in an embodiment of part of that future system. I believe that someday—I don't know when—the longing of so many who share her vision will come to fruition.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether rebuilding Dorasan Station was worth the time and cost. I do know this: it is powerfully uplifting and tangible to those who see it. It is an example of hands-on vision (granted, for a very difficult geopolitical situation).

In much of business and government today, we have widely bought into a popular distinction between management and leadership. Warren Bennis (whom I admire and believe was largely correct in this) put it simply: "Managers do things right; leaders do the right things." But have we carried this too far? Stanford Professor Bob Sutton worries that "it seems to be used as a reason for leaders to avoid the hard work of learning about the people that they lead, the technologies their companies use, and the customers they serve." (LinkedIn post, "Management vs. Leadership: A Dangerous But Accurate Distinction," December 16, 2013)

Two organizations I've worked with in the recent past spring to mind. One is large by any measure, yet nimble, customer-focused and consistently rated among the top companies for customer satisfaction. Their C-level leadership team had me deliver a half-day course to them—not 30 minutes, not a 90-minute executive briefing, but half-day interactive training on the basics of customer experience and engagement. Each person regularly invests time with agents, programmers, supervisors and customers. In stark contrast, another company that brought us in has a leadership team that from the VP level on up nary sets foot in their contact center or warehouse operations. Too busy with other things. Guess which of these organizations has lower turnover, more engaged employees, higher customer loyalty and better financial results? Guess which one spends far more time putting out fires?

Whether you're VP of a division, senior VP of a multinational organization, or leader of a country, you've got to spend time on the ground. Too often, comments such as "I trust my team with that" and "I set direction but then get out of the way" are code for not being in touch. Choose your preferred example: Abraham Lincoln visited troops in the field, which he said profoundly impacted his decisions; the late Steve Jobs regularly dropped into Apple Stores; Vanguard founder John C. Bogle often handled customer contacts himself; Southwest's Herb Kelleher once famously said his strategic plan was "doing things."

You likely won't need to build a train station. But it may be worth tinkering with your schedule so that you can spend more time with your programmers, call center agents, warehouse team, and customers.

Recent Issues


World's Most Admired Companies, 2013

  1. Apple
  2. Google
  4. Coca-Cola
  5. Starbucks
  6. IBM
  7. Southwest Airlines
  8. Berkshire Hathaway
  9. Walt Disney
  10. FedEx

Source: Fortune Magazine

The Two Most Widely Used Customer Experience Statistics

  1. Interaction satisfaction
  2. Likelihood to recommend

Source: Temkin Group, State of Customer Experience Metrics, 2013


Organizations that capture data from customer interactions to identify opportunities for changes and improvements that boost customer satisfaction.

Source: ICMI report, A Wow Customer Journey!


Reflect on the time you've spent in the past year with customers, customer service agents, and others directly involved in the customer experience. What would the ideal look like in the coming year?


Brad's upcoming public speaking schedule:


About Brad

Brad has devoted his career to maximizing the value of customer-facing services. As a speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, and president/CEO, he has seen change from many perspectives and has a deep understanding of the critical importance of customer service delivery to an organization's success. He has worked across 45 states and in 60 countries, and has been privileged to assist in the evolution of service delivery for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca-Cola, USAA, and others, as well as for governments across the globe. Brad serves as a senior advisor to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), and is an in-demand speaker and consultant.

To inquire about consulting or speaking, connect through any of the channels below.

To Connect               

Please feel free to forward and share this newsletter!

Join Brad Cleveland's Mailing List


© 2013 Brad Cleveland   All Rights Reserved