“Attention to detail” for some means “good enough.”

I know, because I used to be one of those people.

My uncle Bobby used to own Section 8 rental homes. This was in the days where renters could treat the property however they wanted and leave the landlord responsible for the clean-up.

People would move out of my uncle’s duplexes and left them looking like a disaster area. Maggots, rats, sacks of diapers, spoiled food in the refrigerator—it was awful.

As kids, he’d pay us to go in and clean these houses. I was always looking for a way to make a dollar, so I gladly took the job. I didn’t realize it meant Uncle Bobby got to go off and play a round of golf, but that was fine by me. I needed that dollar.

When he came back, he went through the apartment like the Inspector General. He’d point to a corner where some crumbs had collected and say, “Look, this isn’t clean.”

Then he’d walk over to the windows and see there was a hairline crack in it. “This needs to be replaced,” he’d say.

I was always shocked.

“Uncle Bobby, we cleaned up all of this trash and rotten food and dirty diapers. How is this not good enough?”

“Attention to detail,” he’d say.

I thought we had paid attention to the details, but he kept saying it over and over again. Finally, I asked him:

“Uncle Bobby, what does ‘attention to detail’ mean?”

“Look, son, the details are what’s truly important. Those are what make things come together. If you miss the details, the bigger things don’t actually matter.”

I still didn’t quite understand.

“That cracked window? That crack becomes representative of the whole apartment, not just the window. People will judge the apartment based on that crack, not how the rest of the place looks.”

Then I understood—and it’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

We’ve all heard the idea that if a person has a great customer experience, they’ll only tell a few people, but if they have a bad one, they’ll tell everyone they know.

It works that way with attention to detail, too.

We’ll go to a fancy restaurant with a great reputation. 

They pull out your chair and there are crumbs on it. 

Or the trash in the bathroom is overflowing. 

Or the paper towel dispenser is empty.

Our food and service can be incredible—but we’re going to remember that the place seemed unclean. At least for a fancy restaurant. It might even keep us from going back.

What’s unfortunate in some ways is that people only notice attention to detail when it’s not there—when things aren’t right.

That’s why only cleaning up the big things in Uncle Bobby’s apartments wasn’t acceptable.

We have to remember, no matter what industry we’re in, that we have to focus on even the most minute details.

At Scribe, we call this “All the Pieces Matter” but it’s the same idea: it’s human nature to see and focus on what’s wrong, so the little things are, in fact, the big things. Attention to detail is the only way to make sure you get all of it right.