Book offers insight as to why businesses succeed, fail

I’m currently reading the book “Broken Windows, Broken Business” – a business book based on the Broken Windows theory, which argues that that major crime in urban areas can be curbed by quickly fixing minor problems such as broken windows. In short, the book relates the theory to business and says that “broken windows” of any kind should not be tolerated in any business that hopes to become successful and stay successful.

Businesses can encounter a number of “broken windows” – everything from spelling errors on their website to forcing customers to jump through hoops just to speak with a real person on the phone. But while it is expected that businesses will encounter such challenges, it is the businesses that identify and immediately repair those broken windows that will come out on top. Otherwise, the book warns, those who do not address and fix broken windows immediately will lose their customers and clients to competitors – especially if that broken window is a frontline employee who makes no attempt to treat customers well. In fact, the book says, bad customer service is the “ultimate broken window.”

BookEmployees can literally make or break a business. Good employees can keep customers coming back time and again, and a bad experience with an employee will ensure a customer a.) never frequents that business again and b.) tells all their friends about how bad their experience with your business was.

The book also talks about “non-broken windows,” things that businesses do to anticipate what customers want and provide that something before customers even know they want it. If I had been handing out “caught you doing something right” cards this past weekend to reward businesses that have trained their employees well and to serve as examples of “non-broken” windows, here are a few businesses I would have rewarded:

Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry. As part of its warranty, my engagement ring and I take quarterly trips to Jared for a ring inspection. Even though the saleswoman helping me knew I was only there to drop off my ring, she asked if I would like some water or one of their awesomely good cappuccinos. (Uh, yes please!)

Red Lobster. My mom and I made it clear to our waitress how much we love Red Lobster’s cheesy biscuits. When we packed up our leftovers, our waitress handed us each our own to-go bag of fresh biscuits.

Starbucks. I spent a good chunk of the day last weekend working on my laptop at Starbucks. A good hour or so after I’d ordered my drink and tucked myself away into a corner to work, I asked one of the baristas for some assistance logging on to their Internet connection. He helped me easily and, as he was walking away, he asked how I’d liked my vanilla latte. (I should, at this point, clarify that I barely ever go there.) In response to my compliment about his good memory, he responded with: “A sugar-free vanilla soy latte for Melissa, right?” Wow!

So how do you avoid broken windows in your own business? “Be obsessed,” the book says. Obsessed with your business and detail-oriented. Go out of your way to treat clients well and, if an issue arises, go above and beyond the client’s expectations when fixing it. Anticipate your customers’ wants and needs and address them proactively. “Secret shop” your own businesses to see what kind of experience your customers are receiving. Ask customers what they like about your business and what they would improve; use that feedback to implement changes as well as increase those things you are doing well.

No broken window is too small to fix – immediately.

Melissa Rothermel serves as Director of Media Relations for Imagine Marketing.
E-mail Melissa at

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