Going the Extra Mile

This is a guest post by Rob Fischer. I first met Rob when he was the executive pastor of the church I attended. We have since become friends and spiritual partners. Rob is now a Certified Leadership Coach, the author of many fine books, and a freelance writer whose work I recommend highly. Rob offers free resources at the Fischer Leadership Coaching Website.
-Ray Edwards

We often employ the phrase, “Going the extra mile,” to indicate stellar customer service. Do you know where that phrase originated?

The Extra Mile Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

In the first century, Roman occupation forces controlled Israel. At the time, it was common for a Roman soldier to force a resident into temporary service and carry the soldier’s gear for a distance. The locals were neither keen on the fact that a foreign nation occupied their land, nor that soldiers of this occupation force made such demands on them.

How would we feel under those circumstances? The residents of Israel resented this practice and when forced to carry a soldier’s gear, they did so grudgingly and only for as short a distance as they could get away with. In other words, they got by with as little as possible to comply with the soldier’s request.

Then one day, Jesus of Nazareth showed up and urged his fellow citizens, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matthew 5:41 NIV) Hence the saying, “Go the extra mile.”

Jesus referred to “going the extra mile” as one of many examples to introduce a new mindset. This new mindset prompts us to be others-focused instead of self-focused. We value people regardless of who they are and so we go the extra mile for them.

Going the extra mile for a client is usually good business, but we must remember that the reason it is good business is because going the extra mile puts others first.

We would probably never admit to treating a client or customer in the same way the first century citizens of Israel treated their occupation forces. However, it’s easy to shift our focus away from the people we serve and concentrate too intently on merely fulfilling our contractual agreement. Giving people exactly and only what we agreed upon is not going the extra mile. In fact, it’s merely meeting the bare minimum requirements of our contract.

[Tweet “Extenuating circumstances: excuse not to meet agreements, or opportunity to go the extra mile?”]

Some years ago, I flew to St. Paul, MN, to conduct a week long training program for a large company. This company had rented a beautiful meeting room in what is now the Wells Fargo Place in downtown St. Paul.

The month was January and our training happened to coincide with the coldest week of the year. On the first day of the training, the temperature plummeted to minus 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though Minnesotans are no strangers to cold, extreme cold plays havoc with machinery. In particular, cars refused to start, which froze a myriad of other daily routines.

Many of the Wells Fargo Place employees could not get to work on time that morning to open up rooms and provide their normal high levels of service. Since my training participants and I were staying in a downtown hotel, we merely walked to the Wells Fargo Place through heated skyways.

Fortunately for us and the Wells Fargo Place, they had contracted with a catering company that cultivated a very high level of customer service. A young man from the caterer showed up that morning to provide coffee and Danish for meeting participants. Dressed in a crisp, white uniform, he finished his job quickly, professionally and joyfully.

But when he realized that the Wells Fargo Place staff had not yet arrived, without skipping a beat, he took charge. He opened up all the meeting rooms, turned on the lights, and ensured that each room was ready to receive guests. Then he sat down at the front desk answered the Wells Fargo Place’s phones and directed guests to their respective rooms!

In the middle of all this, he took time to cheerfully explain to me the situation and asked me to let him know if I needed anything. We typically use extenuating circumstances as an excuse not to meet customer requirements. This young man jumped on a difficult situation as an opportunity to go the extra mile.

I was deeply impressed—even humbled—by this young man’s extraordinary service and personal warmth toward his customers. His actions were truly selfless.

I complimented him on his outstanding service, commended him later to the Wells Fargo Place staff, and cited his example frequently throughout the training that week. And here we are so many years later and I’m still impressed with this young man’s devotion to going the extra mile with his customers.

Question: What would going the extra mile look like in your business?

    Rob Fischer is a Life & Leadership Coach who helps you maximize your potential and achieve your goals. He has served in the US Army, pastored four churches, managed the training and development for two major corporations, and is the author of six books and hundreds of articles. Rob offers free resources at the Fischer Leadership Coaching Website.

    Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

    • For me, Rob, some ways it would show up are:

      1. Exceeding customer expectations.

      2. Not just pleasing customers, but delighting them.

      3. Surprising even those who don’t buy anything, by rendering them great value.

      4. Always keeping my commitments.

      5. Always having the other person feel as though they got the better end of the deal.

      To be honest, I’m still working on all of these things. They are part of my goals for 2014. Thank you for writing such a tremendous post!

    • Jevonnah Ellison

      Great post, Rob. Going the extra mile means deeply caring for my clients and never forgetting the Golden Rule. The extra mile is love in action. I also love to surprise them with unexpected gifts and bonuses that are something they truly value and cherish. I love Ray’s comment, “not just pleasing customers, but delighting them.”

    • I love the bible reference Rob, but I don’t think you used it correctly. The advice given by Jesus in this story was meant to offer a way for Jews to show passive resistance towards their occupiers. A Roman soldier could be disciplined for having a Jew carry his gear for more than a mile, so this was a way for the Jews to express their displeasure passively in hopes of causing the soldier trouble with his commanders. The same held true when Jesus told his followers to give Roman soldiers the coat off their backs (one’s coat was considered so important to their survival, soldiers were not allowed to ask for it), and turn the other cheek (offering to be slapped by the “unclean” hand of a soldier was seen as a passive insult.

      • Rob Fischer

        “Going the extra mile” is a reference to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:41. As with any piece of literature, context always determines the meaning. In this case, the context includes: “turning the other cheek,” and other examples of not demanding our rights in the face of attacks by others. Jesus caps this segment by urging us to love our enemies.
        I’m afraid there’s no reference here to any political motivations, just personal. We’re to love others even when they “force us to go a mile.” We demonstrate our love by going two instead. I hope that helps.

    • Chris

      Hi Rob,
      Thanx for your explanation.
      Will you please post references to the primary source literature that shows the law that required “go the extra mile”?
      Thanx … Chris

    • Chris


      I believe you are in error.

      The reason Y’shuah instructed his followers to “go the extra mile” was so that they would, by their actions, defuse a potentially volatile situation. He taught, “be subtle as snakes and harmless as doves.” That was how he kept them from keeping out of POLITICAL problems … at least more than they would otherwise have brought upon themselves due to their outward defiance of the political oppression they were currently under by their own public officials and bureaucrats (like in today’s fascist police state America, and like we see American cops murdering innocent, unarmed people every week).

      In other words, Y’shuah was telling his people how to keep out of harm’s way in a politically volatile climate.

      Cheers … Chris