A Lesson from Michelangelo: Details Matter

I don’t know if it’s true, but it doesn’t matter. This is a great story with a great lesson. 

Michelangelo was standing on his scaffold as he worked on painting a tiny leaf on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A colleague looked up from far below and shouted, “Why are you so concerned about painting that little leaf? Nobody from this distance will ever know.” 

Michelangelo responded, “I will know!” 

The point is that the smallest details matter. Even if they don’t matter to the customer, they should still matter to you. It’s a sense of pride, dedication, and discipline that you care enough not to cut corners, take shortcuts or gloss over details.  

If he were living today, Michelangelo would be the guy you want doing the maintenance check on your airplane before a flight, working on your car, or looking over the budget for your next big project. That’s when details really matter, and a person who obsesses over details is one you want on the team. 

However, there are times when details might not be as important. Maybe you’re brainstorming a new product or coming up with a new strategy. It could be about anything. In a brainstorming process, you don’t worry about the details. You look at the big picture. Then, once you have an idea you think might work, you take the time to drill down and get into the details.  

As it applies to customer experience (including customer service), it is often the little details that move the experience from average to amazing. I’ve always preached that the best companies don’t need to go over the top to be seen as amazing. They need to be just a little better than average. That’s often where the details come in. 

For example, using a customer’s name at the right time is a small detail that adds to an experience. The garnish on a plate makes the entrée look better. Keeping the salt and pepper shakers full at a restaurant is never noticed until they aren’t full. The follow-up call you weren’t expecting pleasantly surprises you. It’s the same with a fast reply to an email or quick return phone call. None of these are big. It’s usually just “little things” – details that often are almost unnoticed – that give our customers confidence and help create customer amazement.  

In the story, Michelangelo was saying that details, even if they aren’t obvious, are important to him. They are also important to our customers, whether they know it or not. Furthermore, Michelangelo could go home at night and sleep, knowing he did his best. We should strive for the same. 

Related: Feedback Narcissism