Why would a CEO take time out every month to teach his new hires? He wants them to take customer service as seriously as he does.

It’s early on a Tuesday morning in Austin, Texas, and Craig Tysdal, president and CEO of NetSolve Inc., is so excited that he accidentally writes on the wall with a permanent marker. “What is customer service?” he asks the people seated before him. He doesn’t wait to hear an answer. “Customer service is perception minus expectations!” he booms. “It’s expecting one thing and getting a lot more!”

Which is just what you’d expect him to say. Customer service has become the Holy Grail for every company, and since NetSolve’s main function is to manage the computer networks of other companies, bad service can have a direct effect on the P&L.

But Tysdal isn’t addressing a bunch of outside investors. He’s talking to a mishmash of new employees, ranging from receptionists to senior managers. They’re starting day one of a three-part mandatory course on customer service, even though they may never speak a word to a customer. And Tysdal is not just there for a meet and greet. He is there to teach.

For more than four years, Tysdal has done this almost every month, for every new employee — 275 and counting. Why? Because Craig Tysdal is not just a leader. He is a leader who loves to teach. To Tysdal, who has worked at several startups and lived through three IPOs (including NetSolve’s), there is nothing more critical in a business than excellent customer service. And if you don’t make that clear internally, you’re toast.

The sessions are homespun affairs, Þlled with truisms and real-life examples that anyone can relate to. To show how a bad reputation can wreck your business, Tysdal talks about a dry cleaner he used when he Þrst moved to Austin but stopped going to after a friend warned they were unreliable. To prove how good service can change your life, he shows a slide of his own palatial home and talks about the tiny house that he grew up in.

Next come the dictums and the how-tos: Always take a problem away from a customer. Don’t ever hesitate to Þx the problem, even if it’s not NetSolve’s fault (the company offers a money-back satisfaction guarantee). Mimic the customer’s own style, except if someone is angry — then let him vent. “I’ve been married 25 years, and when my wife wants a piece of my butt, she can have it,” says Tysdal.

Tysdal says that he has no intention of farming out the class work to anyone else. “The attitude of our employees and how we treat our customers is pretty fundamental to what we do.”


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