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.

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?