A Lesson in Service Delivery Excellence by Muhammad Ali (The Greatest of All Time)

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By Odessa Jenkins, Director of Client Services at YourCause

When I heard the news of Muhammad Ali’s death, I was immediately overcome with thoughts on how to improve my personal performance as a leader and as an individual contributor. Although I never had an opportunity to watch Ali fight live (I was 6 months old when Ali fought Holmes in Oct. 1980), as a sports enthusiast I have always been enamored by the stories of the champ’s work ethic, showmanship, and most of all, results. He was a champion, and more importantly, a results driven activist.

As a competitive athlete, it’s easy to understand how I could apply Ali’s teachings to be a better performing running back.  But I was pondering a greater challenge. How could I translate key elements of Muhammad Ali’s success into core lessons as the Head of Service Delivery and Client Support? After taking the time again to briefly study his life, the lesson jumped off of the pages:

Dedicate Yourself to Training

Multiple sources have revealed that throughout Ali’s boxing career he had a steady regimen of training 6 hours a day, for 6 days a week. Training was the first thing he did in the morning (6 mile run), and the last thing he did at night (2 mile cool down walks). As a young fighter (prior to becoming a champion) Ali understood the value of training and the ultimate impact that it would have on his career.

In the world of Account Management and Customer Service, our training is our stopgap. Building, preparing, and continuing emphasis on training keeps your service work force accountable to the standards set by the organization. We also focus on training as a mechanism for driving service improvements. Multiple opportunities for new services and product improvements have come through the lens of new and existing employees in a training session. As we continue to experience growth at YourCause, the emphasis and expectation for training increases.  Like Ali, my employees expect that the training they receive will ultimately help deliver the results that they want to achieve.

Address challenges head on, BUT always have a plan

Some would regard Ali’s ability to handle adversity as his most impressive attribute. Not only did he defend his title over multiple decades, but he stood up to, and even antagonized racism in a time when that type of behavior was sure to cost a man his life. Additionally, Ali managed to defend his title on many occasions in an era recognized as the most competitive time in boxing history. Nevertheless, what has gone under appreciated is that Ali was a great strategist. His ring generalship was made evident by his flawless execution of the “rope-a-dope” against Forman, and he played the media so harmoniously that no one even cared to try and curb how aggressive his message was.

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This may have seemed like reckless behavior at the time, but we can see clear patterns of actions and considerations that can serve as a key formula for successful customer issue resolution. As service oriented humans, we are natural problem solvers. We are the types that jump right in and typically have a high intensity “all in” solution to getting the problem addressed. We can all learn from Ali’s approach to planning and communication:

  1. Listen closely, speak clearly and address the issues directly
  2. Show empathy, but always stay in control of your emotions
  3. Always share a root cause and preventive measure (and understand the difference between the client facing and internal versions of each)

Your achievements should be authenticated by your titles, and not vise versa

There seems to be a belief in recent years that awards are validation of a job well done. But what Ali taught us time and time again is that personal power comes from within, rather than from external recognition.

According to legend, after being denied service at a restaurant for his color, Ali threw his gold medal into the Ohio River. He knew he was “The Greatest,” and a gold medal or even later being stripped of his Heavyweight Title by not enlisting in the army wouldn’t change that.

For Ali, and customer service professionals, it is the results that matter, not the award. At YourCause we take this lesson to heart, and let our service reputation in the form of client feedback, referrals, and renewals be our ultimate reward.
Muhammad Ali was a true legend in and out of the ring, and his life and career offers many lessons to learn from if you look closely.


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