Earlier this month, hundreds of small business owners descended on Washington, D.C., to announce Read the rest of this entry »
Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category
Customer service is truly the lifeblood of any small business. Small businesses generally can’t compete with big box stores and bigger corporations on price, but customer service can provide small businesses with a competitive edge – if you do it right.
I’ve been working in customer service off and on for over a decade, and in that time, I’ve dealt with some of the best and worst examples of customers that you can find. Some of them made my day through our interactions, while others made me want to jump over the counter and beat the holy hell out of them. But through it all, I found a number of strategies that apply not only to dealing with customers, but with people in general.
Customer service is an integral part of our job and should not be seen as an extension of it. A company’s most vital asset is its customers. Without them, we would not and could not exist in business. When you satisfy our customers, they not only help us grow by continuing to do business with you, but recommend you to friends and associates.
The practice of customer service should be as present on the show floor as it is in any other sales environment.
One of the truly jarring dimensions of the Great Recession is the death sentence it has imposed on of hundreds of brands, even whole companies, that were once familiar parts of the business landscape — not just bankruptcies, but liquidations and flat-out disappearances. Once-proud automobile nameplates, including GM’s Oldsmobile and Pontiac, and Ford’s Mercury, have become history. The ghosts of once-prominent (and now liquidated) retailers, from Circuit City to Virgin Megastores to Linens N Things, haunt shopping malls from coast to coast. And then there are the obituaries for so many newspapers, including the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and many more too depressing to list.
The fact that “going out of business” has become such a growth business got me thinking about a question I heard years ago from advertising legend Roy Spence, cofounder of GSD&M, who told me he heard it from strategy guru Jim Collins. Whomever the original source, it’s a question I’ve posed time and again to organizations and their leaders who are searching for the courage to make big positive change in tough economic times.
The question is as profound as it is simple — and it’s worth taking seriously as you evaluate your approach to strategy, competition, and innovation. Here it is: If your company went out of business tomorrow, would anybody really miss you and why? Think about it for a moment. Why might a company be missed? First, because it’s providing a product or service so unique that it can’t be provided nearly as well by the five or six other companies that are its main rivals. BMW falls into this camp, maybe Ritz-Carlton and Emirates Airlines. But really, how many products or service do you know for which this is true? Your car? Your dishwasher? Your mutual funds? Your credit cards? In all of these categories, aren’t there plenty of pretty-good alternatives to whatever choice you’re making today?
Second, a company might be missed because it has created a workplace so dynamic and energetic that most employees would be hard-pressed to find a similar environment somewhere else. To be sure, in this brutal economy, having any job beats being jobless. But how many places have you worked in, or how many workplaces do you know of, where folks are so fired up to report for duty on Monday morning that if they had to go find a new job on Tuesday morning they’d miss their old surroundings? These days, the only thing lower than customer satisfaction is employee satisfaction.
Finally, a company might be missed because it has forged a uniquely emotional connection with customers that other companies can’t replicate. That is, a relationship based not just on the economic value it has to offer, but the values with which it conducts itself. Apple is an obvious passion brand in the performance-obsessed technology world — maybe the greatest passion brand in the whole world. HBO comes to mind as a passion brand in the notoriously fickle media market, a network that has doesn’t just have viewers but devoted followers. But ultimately, in a world of non-stop competition and endless choices, how many companies and brands do you know that have achieved the status that Kevin Roberts, of Saatchi & Saatchi, calls a lovemark — in his words, a product, service or entity that inspires “loyalty beyond reason.”
The fact is, precious few companies meet any of these three criteria — which may be why so many companies feel like they are on the verge of going out of business. So the next time colleagues urge you to think small and downsize your dreams, ask why they believe that playing it safe is playing it smart. That’s what they thought at Oldsmobile and Mercury and Circuit City and the Rocky Mountain News — and look how it worked out for them!
Here’s the real message: If your customers can live without you, eventually they will.
Here’s the big challenge: If you do business the way everybody else does business, you’ll never do any better.
Here’s the urgent question: If your company went out of business, would anybody notice?
Good luck as you work on your answers.
A key component of customer loyalty is how well a company handles complaints. I have a fresh example to illustrate! I bought a top of the line, king size memory foam mattress six months ago and it already has a lump in the middle. It has a 15 year warranty on it so I called customer service. They are sending out a third party to determine if there is a defect which is fine.
The customer service representative then informed me that if the mattress is defective and needs to be replaced, there is a $50 charge that I must pay for them to deliver the new one and take away the defective one. I told her that doesn’t make sense that I would have to pay a delivery charge for their defective mattress. She calmly and politely informed me that in the small print of the agreement that I signed, it clearly stated that I was responsible for these charges if the mattress was defective. I didn’t check the small print but I’m sure it is there.
I’m not sure what occurred in their customer service process design meetings (if there were any) but they were obviously looking at the process from an internal, short term financial point of view. The cost to deliver goods was to be passed on to the consumer……for their defect!!
Although this may satisfy the short term financial metric, it fails miserably on the longer term, more critical metric, customer satisfaction. In my opinion, there is a simple solution that satisfies both metrics. They could deliver the new replacement mattress free of charge (what a concept!).
This satisfies the customer who is upset that the product was defective but at least the company stands by their product and makes the replacement as positive of an experience as possible.
From the financial perspective, a financial analyst could determine the defective mattress rate (for simplicity, let’s say one defect for every 50 sold). If the average delivery cost is $50/replacement, then that cost could be spread over every 50 mattresses sold by adding a dollar to every initial delivery or adding a dollar to the sales price. The customer, at the time of sale, could care less if the delivery fee is $20 or $21 or if the sales price goes up a dollar. It would be transparent to them.
The end result is a satisfied customer who would consider buying from the same store again and the cost of redelivery is covered indirectly. The result of their current process is that I will never buy another mattress from them.
They won’t be able to measure that directly but it will show up in future sales since there will be less repeat business over the long term. I know this sounds so basic but I am continually amazed at how many companies do not understand customer service and satisfaction.
This isn’t any different than the nice hotel that wants to charge me, on a separate line item, an extra .50 for a newspaper. Just give me the freaking’ newspaper and build the cost into my nightly rate!!
Some companies just don’t get it!!