December 07, 2006


Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, 4th Edition. By Performance Research Associates. Illustrations by John Bush. AMACOM. $18.95.

Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game & How It Got That Way. By Philip E. Orbanes. Da Capo. $26.

     The “Knock Your Socks Off Service” concept is 15 years old, and Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service is in its fourth edition now, having outlived Ron Zemke, founder of Performance Research Associates (PRA) and author of some three dozen books on improving the quality of service and the effectiveness of the organization that delivers it.  PRA is still around, and this new edition of the book is a team effort bearing the firm’s name rather than the name or names of one or more individual authors.  But the authorship does not really matter: Zemke’s ideas continue to pervade this book, and they remain valid even though the landscape of communications has changed a great deal in the past decade and a half, as have corporations themselves.  The basic idea of this book is to implement an observation by Tom Peters: to paraphrase, that every customer perceives service quality differently, and a company seeking success needs to internalize this principle and figure out how to deliver a uniquely satisfying experience to each customer while still selling essentially the same thing.  This sounds difficult, but some elements of the approach are simplicity itself (at least to state): be reliable, dependable, accurate and highly responsive.  This means meeting or exceeding customers’ expectations at all times – after finding out what their individual expectations are; focusing on problem-solving, since problems are bound to arise at times; and figuring out to handle genuinely troublesome customers.  PRA does not minimize the difficulties of implementing its recommendations, but – to its credit – it provides specifics of what to do, from winning phrases to use to cautions to observe.  The whimsical drawings by John Bush, along with the book’s amusing title, help make what is essentially a serious subject much more enjoyable to explore.

     Millions of people have gotten enjoyment from exploring Monopoly, a game that is more than a game: it is a worldwide phenomenon.  Philip E. Orbanes, historical authority for Hasbro – which owns the Parker Brothers brand, whose most famous game is Monopoly – is highly informative and highly entertaining in his explanation of how the game originated, developed, and grew and grew and grew.  Orbanes tells the story through alliteratively titled and precisely dated chapters, such as “Stryker’s Style: 1925-1932” and “The General’s Gamble: 1959-1972.”  The early history of what would become Monopoly is especially interesting – Orbanes traces the game back to 1903, to a serious, educational and rather anti-capitalist handmade product called The Landlord’s Game.  A lot of the tidbits in the book are fascinating: the most-landed-upon Monopoly space is B&O Railroad; over $3 trillion of Monopoly money has been printed to date; etc.  Fascinating too is a central section called “The Monopoly Gallery,” featuring dozens of photos of Monopoly games of various eras, and of related games.  Even the appendices – there are 10 of them – are interesting, at least for Monopoly devotees: one gives the 1936 Monopoly rules, another an excerpt from the 1913 patent for the fascinatingly titled “Brer Fox an’ Brer Rabbit Newbie Game.”  There’s something here for everyone fascinated by this most fascinating (and addicting) of modern board games.

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