Details, Details, Details

Posted June 1996

A funny thing happened on the way back from Portsmouth on Mother’s Day.

As many of you might recall from last month’s President’s Console, I’ve been preparing for a long distance bicycle ride called the Tour of Scioto River Valley (along with 5,000 other riders). It’s 210 miles from Columbus, Ohio to Portsmouth, Ohio and back. This year the ride presented a very pointed example of how each and every detail must be attended to, or the whole effort could be cut short. And I’d like to take a moment here to discuss the issue of attention to detail, and perhaps take a life’s lesson from this experience.

The ride down was actually quite reasonable. We left Columbus on our bikes, in the rain about 6:45 AM Saturday morning. It wasn’t too cold, nor raining too hard (although it rained the entire way), just enough to let you know it was there. And, there was the nicest tailwind pushing us along. We reached the halfway point (Chillicothe) in a little over three hours. While this stop normally serves as the lunch break, it was so early we were kind of hoping for breakfast!

After leaving Chillicothe, I began noticing the strangest creaking noise coming from somewhere on my bicycle. It didn’t seem to correlate with the speed, braking, twisting, bouncing, anything. But I knew something was wrong, and, the further we got the more often the creaks. My best guess was the rain had brought out one of the squeak gremlins (common in bicycles), and would be cleared up with a little chain lubrication.

We rolled (yes, rolled, because the tailwind had made pedaling optional) into Portsmouth in our best time ever at a little over 7 hours after leaving Columbus. And I still hadn’t been able to pin down that intermittent creak. Obviously it had to get worse before it could be fixed. We dried out our clothes, ate dinner and retired for the evening without a further thought of it.

Well, Sunday morning dawned sunny, cold, and with a fierce headwind for the return trip. And what an awful racket my bike started making. But, I was finally able to narrow down the noise; the hub on my front wheel. We struggled into the headwind, with a couple of extended breaks to refuel (bagels and orange slices), and to have a couple of bike jockeys look at my front wheel. The first guy tightened the bearing/cones and sent me on my way, while at the second stop we tried some chain lubrication on it. Neither worked.

Five and one-half hours later we came limping into Chillicothe; cold, hungry, exhausted and on a wobbly front wheel to boot. The headwind had grown to about 12 MPH, and flags and banners were being whipped about in our faces in an ugly manner.

And that’s where my trip ended; 50 miles from the goal. The last bike jockey to work on the wheel actually took it apart, pointed out the missing ball bearing, and the missing dust seal on the left side, and while he made valiant efforts to find the correct parts to put it back together, he couldn’t.

This is where the life’s lesson comes in. You see, I’d taken my bike to a local bike shop (which will remain nameless), for preventive maintenance earlier this spring. New bearing/cones in the front and rear wheels, chain guard, and a whole lot of other stuff were put onto/into the bike. Unfortunately the repair guy overlooked one minor detail, the dust seal on the left side of the front wheel. Grim and grit forced in by the rain and water took its toll and sidelined me.

And if that wasn’t enough, when I took the wheel back to them, they began quoting to me from their repair parts list and hourly rate chart to fix it. No words of apology on their oversight, or polite consolation on the equipment failure during this season’s premier event. Just a simple price quote to fix it.

So, let me refocus our attentions on the details. Like that missing dust seal, when we forget to see that you get the right cable, or connector, or screws to hold something on, we too fail you, and it might be during your premier event. When we sell you a modem but program it for the wrong speed, we too make your life more difficult. Each and every one of us must remember to do the whole job, thoroughly and with every attention to detail. And then, when we do slip up, do our level best to make it right, even if we have to go that extra mile for you late into the evening.

And you, too, might take a lesson from my shortened bike ride. Because you too have customers depending on you to follow through on every detail, and make it right when one slips by. If we all tighten up a bit on the detail end, perhaps the overall big picture will brighten up as a result.

I did enjoy the ride though, and am looking forward to another ride later this summer for the American Cancer Society, from Grove City to Cincinnati, Ohio and back. If I or anyone else here at INFONETICS does something you feel is above and beyond the call of duty, helps you in some special way, or just follows through on the little details, please don’t be bashful. Give me a call. I’m taking pledges for contributions for this charity ride and would be happy to include yours.

— David J. Frea

P.S. One addendum; when I returned to the bike shop to pick up my repaired front wheel, the owner took the time to personally explain to me what had happened, and though he didn’t accept full responsibility for the oversight, he did rebuild the entire front hub at no charge to me. I guess that just goes to show that if we do make a mistake and miss one of those details, if given the opportunity to make it right, DO SO. I’ll probably go back to that same shop in the future since they did the right thing.