Have you ever considered the number of words or phrases that people use all the time and yet have no idea where they came from? Take “God bless you,” for example. Why do we say it only when people sneeze? Why not when they cough? And then there are the abbreviations “A.M.” and “P.M.” What do those letters stand for anyway? And then, of course, there’s “The Whole Shebang.” Someone please tell us what this means.
Thankfully, you’ve got Google to help you with these conundrums. But there’s one such phrase that even Google doesn’t really know about. That phrase happens to be our eighth core value, Top Notch.
The real story behind the original combination of these two words is lost to history. Plenty of speculation surrounds the phrase, though, and folks have observed a general pattern to the stories. You could probably pick out the pattern too. One book from the 1820s uses the phrase in a discussion between two boys about their ability to clear a hurdle. Someone else’s explanation has to do with lumberjacks and the notches they’d cut into trees in order to climb high enough to get the tall branches. Another 19th century use of the word relates it to mountain climbing. There’s also one letter from 1845 that makes reference to the manners in the “very top notch of society.”
As the Online Etymology Dictionary notes, the “exact mechanical image” of this phrase may be “uncertain,” and the phrase may have foggy origins. But we can still decipher what it means. Put simply, the phrase “top notch” is “figurative of the ‘highest point’ of something,” whether it be a mountain, a hurdle, a tree, or something less concrete, like society.
When something is top notch, then, it’s the highest, it’s above everything else, it’s the best. You get the idea, right? Another word that our ZENTX team likes to use to describe this core value is “excellence.” So much so, in fact, that we included it in our tagline for this eighth core value. It goes like this: “We pursue excellence in service and quality.”
To be excellent or to excel means to be so good at something that you surpass others. Yes, it means you’re top notch. That’s why English-speaking people throughout history have called kings and queens “Your Excellency.” In saying this, they’re implying that the royal person is the highest of all his kind. In other words, he’s “most excellent.” (Let’s throw in a classic Bill and Ted air guitar strum here for good measure.)
When it comes to those kings and queens, this term may or may not have been misapplied on occasion (considering that not all of them were actually that excellent). But, when it comes to our business here at ZENTX, we’re eager to make it true of us as much as possible. We’re not simply born into “excellency” like those kings and queens thought they were. Rather, we recognize that it’s something we have to intentionally pursue. To us, evaluating how excellent or top notch we really are involves looking at two primary aspects of our work. We said them both earlier in our tagline. They are “service” and “quality.” Let’s take a close-up look at both.
Perfecting the Process
In our line of business, the service involves every step leading up to and even following the moment when the customer receives the desired product. This involves sales calls, chats with designers, and sometimes even repairs. It’s any interaction between the customer and the company.
Excellence in this area is kind of subjective because it depends quite a bit on person-to-person interactions. And you can’t exactly measure that against some physical standard. Plus, sometimes personalities and personal histories get in the way of purely objective considerations, making otherwise positive interactions rub some people the wrong way. However, this fact of subjectivity doesn’t mean that service is unimportant. There are, in fact, several general guidelines that still apply in most service situations, giving us a good idea of what top notch service actually looks like.
1. Listen well.
If your service is going to be top notch, the best place to begin is to give them what they need and what they’re asking for. And the best way to discover that is to listen to them. Show them that they have your undivided attention.
2. Go the extra mile.
Don’t be content with “good enough.” Aim for the top notch by seizing opportunities to go above and beyond and show your customers that you have their best interest in mind. Make your customers realize that you’re working for them, not for their money.
3. Build relationships.
When you’re trying to get something done, it’s easy to forget that you’re working with living, thinking, and feeling human beings. Of course, taking care of business is important. But so is making friends. And what a better time to make a new friend than when you’re serving someone new.
4. Don’t talk bad about customers.
It’s easy to complain about customers behind their backs. But having a bad attitude behind the scenes won’t help improve your relationship when you’re face-to-face with that person. If you’re having a hard time with someone, there’s no need to lie about it. But there’s also no need to agitate yourself and others through unnecessary venting.
5. Follow through on promises made.
If you said you were going to make something a certain way, meet a certain deadline, or perform a certain action, take every effort to make that happen. Let your customer see your integrity and your excellence at following through.
Perfecting the Product
The second aspect of work that we evaluate for excellence and its ability to meet the top notch is quality. Here, quality has to do with the final product—the thing at the center of our interactions with customers that we produce to meet their needs. Unlike our service, the quality of our products is much less subjective. Since we make physical, tangible products, we can measure quality through physical, tangible observations: by seeing if something looks bad or by feeling for rough edges, for example. And when we see that something is wrong, we act on it and do our part to fix it. Here are some general guidelines that can help your team pursue excellence in the quality of your work.
1. When you mess up, try again.
There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes. In fact, sometimes mistakes help you improve. When you do mess up, though, accept the consequences and do your best to fix it. That way, you not only give your customer a better product but you also give yourself the chance to learn how to do it the right way.
2. Pay attention to the details.
Before you send any product out, check and double check your work to make sure you didn’t overlook something. It’s often those smallest of mistakes that can cause the biggest problems. As they say, “The devil is in the details.”
3. Don’t sacrifice good work for speed.
If you ever have to choose between doing your best work or doing it quickly, always choose the former. Sometimes making products of excellent quality requires a little extra time, but it will be worth it in the end. Keep in mind that “slow and steady wins the race.”
4. Prioritize people’s needs over your paycheck.
Sometimes businesses have to make financial sacrifices in order to give customers what they need. This happens when a repair comes up or when a last-minute change has to be made. Don’t be a pushover, of course. But still be ready to make that sacrifice, recognizing that your top priority is not the cash but your customer.
The Best View
Excellence isn’t easy. Being top notch doesn’t come to you overnight. But if you truly want to make a difference with the work you do, then the pursuit of the “top notch” category should be one of your primary goals. This means constantly challenging yourself to take your work to the next level. It means trying new things. It’s sometimes a matter of breaking old habits and starting new ones.
Whatever this pursuit of the most excellent work will bring to you, don’t be afraid of heights. It might be easiest to climb to lower notches, but excellence calls you upward. Once you’re there at the top notch, don’t forget to enjoy the view.