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Broken Windows, Broken Business: How the Smallest Remedies Reap the Biggest Rewards Hardcover – November 9, 2005

3.9 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Law-and-order criminology inspires this dour, hectoring treatise on the importance of sweating the small stuff in business. PR executive Levine, author of Guerrilla P.R., combines his professional concern for detailed image control with James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling's theory that minor signs of disorder foster a climate of insecurity that causes decent folk to flee. He contends that a company's metaphorical "broken windows"—a confusing Web site, messy restrooms, peeling paint, nagging inconsistencies like "when the waiter at a Chinese restaurant is named Billy Bob"—signal an indifference to consumer satisfaction that repels customers. His remedies are fairly routine: deploy mystery shoppers to ferret out shortcomings, remember that first impressions are lasting, strive to "exceed expectations." What's unusual is his fanaticism, his demands that businesspeople cultivate "the obsessive, compulsive, almost violent need to find the flaws," even when others "deny such things exist or insist that they are unimportant and that you are being ridiculous." Such denials may indicate that "more employees should be getting fired," particularly those who don't smile or are otherwise "coasting, doing their time, merely existing" and infecting other workers with their "virus." Levine is one hard-nosed beat cop, but his strident, repetitive style and emotionally insensitive methods mean that many readers (and certainly their underlings) will find the book more demoralizing than motivating.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In March 1982, criminologists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling introduced the "broken windows" theory, which says that upkeep and reduction of petty crimes such as graffiti enhance the livability of a place and reduce the incidence of more violent crimes. Most law-enforcement experts balked at the time, but the theory was borne out in places like New York City, where Rudolph Giuliani put it into practice in the 1990s. Levine applies the same theory to business, where that same attention to detail can be the difference between failure and success. The "broken windows" that turn customers away could be as simple as poorly maintained restrooms, but more likely it's the customer service problems that slowly degrade a business over time. Levine reminds us that most customers will not even bother to complain when they're unhappy; they simply walk away. He makes his strongest case with the airline industry, buckling under massive failure because they've taken their customers for granted for so long. The examples ring true and the fundamentals apply to any size business. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Business Plus (November 9, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446576786
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446576789
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #374,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As I began to read this book, I was reminded of the assertion that "God is in the details." Some have credited it to Le Corbusier, others to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Whoever its source may be, the relevance to the contemporary business world is compelling. More about that later. In his Introduction, Levine notes that the "broken windows" theory was first put forth by criminologists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling (in 1982) when explaining what a "broken window" is in criminal justice terms: a "signal" that if petty crimes such as graffiti and purse snatching are not dealt with in a resolute and timely manner, far more serious crimes will also be tolerated.

According to Wilson and Kelling, "social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken." Why? Levine: "Because the message being sent out by [something seemingly as insignificant as a] broken window -- the perception it invites -- is that the owner of this building and the people of the community around it don't care if the window is broken. They have given up and anarchy reigns here. Do as you will, because nobody cares."

Throughout his riveting narrative, Levine cites hundreds of workplace situations which send "signals that no one is watching." At least not consciously, perhaps, but many of them are absorbed and retained in the subconscious mind.

As I was well into reading this book, I thought about the only local car wash which my wife and I patronize. The pricing is competitive. What differentiates it from its competition?
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Format: Hardcover
This book reinforces some solid business concepts which you probably have read or heard about previously. The basic logic is that little things count and is best summed up in an old rhyme or proverb

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The title and the logic is borrowed from an article published by criminologists George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson in the Atlantic Journal, March 1982 ([...] Malcolm Gladwell addressed this concept very cogently and interestingly in his best seller - The Tipping Point. (Now that IS a five star book).

Levine references a large number of corporations to illustrate the impact or fixing / not fixing broken windows. Although the publication date suggests November 2005, this book must have gone to press a long time prior to that. He castigates McDonald's for failure to implement the basics and states if Ray Kroc were to return today, he would die of embarrassment. That might have been accurate three years ago but not today. Indeed, the hamburger giant is now a poster child for the author's argument. It has made a dramatic effort to fix its broken windows including better food quality (quality is relative folks), much cleaner, fresher restaurants and a determined effort to make customers more welcome. It is because McDonald's has fixed many of its broken windows that it can now present consistent and substantial same store sales growth for the past three years.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is about perception--and how perception is reality. If you think something is dirty, it is. If you think service is slow, it is. The book is built on original research among police departments. When police paid attention to taking care of the little things, e.g., graffiti and subway jumpers in New York City, citizens started to feel differently--that is, have a different perception about the city and more specifically the neighborhoods that they lived in. These small changes led to big changes in perception, which then leveraged greater changes.

Levine's point is that what cities did about crime, businesses can and are doing with respect to their customers and the perceptions their customers have of them. What is the difference between Wendy's, Burger King, and McDonalds? Perception--and often the perceptions, positive or negative are shaped by little things, and little things can make a big difference.

Is Krispy Kreme better than Dunkin Donuts? Yes--and no. Depending on who you ask, what they want, and sometimes what part of the country you are in.

The real point is whether you are business-to-business or business-to-consumer, business perceptions are critically important. And fixing the broken windows that shape your particular customer's view of you, will go a long way to helping you have the position, sales, and profits that you want in your industry.

Armchair Interviews says: The point of the book is not rocket science. It is simple truth that can create enormous leverage and results if it is energetically and consistently applied.
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