At your service: November 16, 2011

She’s got it. As you enter the restaurant her smile turns your way, she returns her attention to the guests she is serving and before you’ve blinked she is standing there with a warm welcome. She glides across the busy floor like a duck on Lake Tunis, holds out one of the chairs you and your party will need. You don’t notice that she has been carrying menus until you are seated and she hands them to you. You may not know what you will eat or drink or even if she will be waiting on your table; what you do know is that the next 90 minutes of your life are in good hands.

He’s got it. Every time something needs doing around the house that is beyond your ken, he gets the call. Most of the time he is there almost immediately to fix it; when he is already occupied, he lets you know when to expect him and he is there then. When the job requires more than he’s got, he makes a recommendation that is just as count-on-able as his own skill set. Even in these months when there has been a constant workload for handymen, he managed to get all his regular customers ready for winter before the October dump.

What they’ve got is swagger.

Swagger is the new buzz word used by reality show judges to describe the quality that distinguishes winners. The word originates in references to a carrying sack that was called a swag; those travelers who carried them had to hold their shoulders straight and head high in order to distribute the weight of their belongings. They always appeared to be looking down on the world. The dictionary puts a negative spin on “swagger”, but, I like the sound of it and the picture it evokes. It is not easy to carry your baggage and still hold your head up.

The demands we place on service providers to be both competent and personable also require a certain kind of confidence. Those who do their jobs well deserve to be proud of their efforts and their results; they should hold their heads high. Their swagger becomes an attractive feature that instills confidence and trust.

The critical ingredient in swagger could be the load one is carrying. When providing service to others, we must not only carry our own burden, but some aspect of what our customer is carrying as well. Their load may be small and simple (a need for something we sell) or more complex, like a home that needs rebuilding. It is our job to recognize that need and take some of the weight from the customer’s load.

There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. They are both rooted in knowing the worth of one’s efforts. My definition of swagger is “confidence one hair’s breadth short of arrogance”. Those who make their customers’ loads light tend to also be known as the bearers of excellence.