29 July 2019 | 5 min read

Stuffed Animals and Serving with Excellence

Excellence isn’t a standard much used today. Without much conscious thought put into it, most of us expect decent service in our daily interactions with businesses, and little else. Nothing truly out of the ordinary. It’s not that organizations aren’t helpful or living up to their words, it’s just that we’re usually given precisely what we are promised. That type of assistance is the benchmark. We’re promised a service, and that expectation is matched. Transaction complete. 

Whenever someone goes beyond the expected, the world tends to hear about it. You might see a social media shoutout or hear a friend tell the story a few times about how they were “wowed” by a company. That feeling of excitement, of being pleasantly surprised, naturally carries into conversations. People can’t help but share a really terrific experience. 

It’s the difference between a good company and a great company. We share stories about great companies. We give them props on social media. We tell our friends. 

The same goes for volunteer teams. The difference between good volunteer teams and great volunteer teams is excellence. Positive interactions with a volunteer team that wow a client usually leads to shared stories down the road. 

What does it mean to serve with excellence?       

Excellence is going beyond what is expected and offering what is extraordinary.

I love the story, Chris Hurn shares about a family stay at the Ritz-Carlton a few years ago. His wife and children stayed at one of the resorts in Florida, enjoying a weekend away. Unfortunately, when they returned home, they found their son’s favorite stuffed animal, a giraffe named Joshie, had not made the trip back. The child was distraught and to calm him down, his parents explained that Joshie enjoyed the trip so much, he decided to stay a few extra days at the hotel. That same night, the hotel called to say they had found Joshie in the laundry and had handed the toy over to the loss prevention team. Chris sheepishly admitted the story he had told his son about Joshie’s extended stay and asked if the staff would take a picture of the stuffed animal on a chair by the pool to back up his story. The Loss Prevention Team said they would do it and a few days later a box from the Ritz came in the mail. In the box was Joshie safe and sound, along with some fun swag items like frisbees and footballs. What stunned Chris and his family was the additional item in the box. It was a binder with photos meticulously documenting Joshie’s extra few days stay at the resort. Not only was he by the pool with shades on (as Chris originally requested), but he was also pictured visiting the hotel’s spa, other stuffed animals at loss prevention, riding a golf cart, and taking a shift at the security booth. They even sent Joshie’s very own Ritz-Carlton ID badge, which showed he had been made an honorary member of the Loss Prevention Team. While their son was just happy to get his favorite toy back, the parents were amazed at the incredible customer service that went behind the return. You can read the full story here

Serving with excellence is the act of raising the lid to people’s expectations and surprising them with the unprecedented. We love the Bible verse, Matthew 5:41, which says, “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” People may expect one-mile service. It’s bare minimum and normal. It’s what everyone else does. What they are not expecting is the second mile. That’s going above and beyond. It’s uncomfortable. Inconvenient. Unexpected. And completely attention-getting. 

Organizations with fantastic volunteer teams are the ones that go the extra mile. For these volunteers, looking for ways to exceed expectations is the norm. Excellence has become second nature. Like breathing. It’s something they do without putting conscious effort into it. It just comes naturally. They are always going above and beyond what is expected, and THAT becomes the standard when they serve.                     

How do teams reach this type of serving mentality? 

When excellence has become a lifestyle. 

Consistency is key. You have to sacrifice comfort and current routines to create a new lifestyle of excellence. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. 

See, a reputation of serving with excellence doesn’t just happen after one time. It is the cumulation of repeated acts until these behaviors become habitual. When a team decides to be present both mentally and physically and give their all when they are on the job. They work at a different level than most people because they have the focus of surprising and delighting those they serve. Their service has stopped being about them and is now fully focused on helping those around them. 

Giving one’s all is not easy. It forces you to live at a different level than everyone else. It requires focus. Discipline. Determination. Self-Control. There’s no easy way around it. Doing your best is hard work. Excellence is, but worth it. Teams who intentionally focus on the idea of serving with excellence will see a rise in their productivity, relationships with clients, and team spirit. 

Here at Volunteer U, we’re passionate about helping volunteer teams thrive. Your organization is doing important work. You deserve to have an incredible crew behind you to get the job done. Christina has a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership with a focus in Global Consulting. Email the author christina@volunteeru.org.