Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Customers



I never really thought I would write on this topic, but for some reason it keeps bubbling up so I give. I owned and operated a computer consulting firm for several years in the 1990s. It literally was launched in the living room of our rural farmhouse and before all was said and done grew into a computer store with three employees. There were a lot of lessons learned through that experience. Yes, there are some people you will encounter that you cannot afford to have as customers. People that no matter what you do, you will never be able to please.  It is their problem not yours.

Despite that issue, I continue to run into entrepreneurs who have no value for their customers - any of them. It reminds me of a friend who her and her husband operated an ice maker sales and service business and a story she shared. She walked into a local store and after a few minutes of browsing, a sales associate practically knocked her down in his haste. Her response? "Young man, you need to recognize something. I am a customer. I represent income. You represent expense. Check with your manager and see which one they value most."

As managers, business owners, and organizational leaders, we should never lose site of her point. Unfortunately in the hustle and bustle of the daily demands, we forget it. Every time I walk into a restaurant that is busy and the host or hostess begins to lead us to a table, invariably someone on the wait staff busy serving the customers at their assigned table will try to run over me. My value to them will only change if I am seated at one of their tables, and they begin to want me to tip. But what is my motivation to reward your service if you tried to knock me down 10 minutes ago?

To ever achieve success in any organization,  the people we serve have to feel valued. It is safe to assume that I do not feel valued by the wait staff that tries to knock me down on my way to a table. Communication plays a big part in the value equation. A couple of weeks ago,  I placed an order for a piece of equipment for our organization. The business owner had me send our billing and delivery address and committed to sending us an invoice and offered to schedule the delivery date. I committed to mailing a check upon receiving the invoice. Later that day, I received an invoice made out to a completely different organization for a completely different piece of equipment. So, I immediately responded to the sender notifying them of the error. Four days later I received a corrected invoice made out to the delivery address instead of the billing address. I mailed a check that evening. The agreed delivery date arrives and no equipment. I call them and get voicemail. I leave a message and follow up with an email. The next afternoon I get a call from the owner. He explains that they had not received our check so they delayed delivery.  Would it not have been a good idea to contact the customer and reset their expectations when that decision was made? And ask yourself,  why was the check delayed? Because it took them four days to send a corrected invoice. Does the customer feel valued at this point? No. The business is making it abudently clear they are solely after the dollar. The owner quickly commits that if the check is in the afternoon mail, he will reschedule delivery the next morning or Friday at the latest. Good save.

Thursday our operations manager buzzs me and says a bank is on the phone asking to verify a check. It is the check for the equipment in question. We verify that we did in fact issue that check to the company on the face of the check. Now mind you the owner did not call or email and say, "Hey we got your check and we are rescheduling your delivery. " The only way we knew they had received the check was because their bank called. No delivery on Thursday or Friday. Feeling valued? Negative. I call and receive another commitment for Monday.  Do I believe them? Nope. Monday comes and no delivery. I email them expressing my frustration with their lack of follow through, empty promises on delivery dates, and the lack of communication.  I receive a return call from a woman who apologizes for the delayed delivery and floats a story about truck problems and says "I meant to call all our deliveries but your number fell through the cracks." Then she commits, "We will get your delivery first thing in the morning or certainly by Wednesday at the latest." No delivery on Tuesday or Wednesday and no phone call or email to explain.Will they receive repeat business? Will we recommend them to other organizations requiring the same equipment? I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Maybe the world is big enough that you can aggravate everyone that comes to you as a customer and repeat customers are not of value. But I have found the best advertising any business can do is the word of mouth from satisfied customers. Make them feel valued and not only will they return when they need your product and services again, but they will be your advocate to their network of friends and family.

Remember Newton's law? For every force their is an equal and opposite force? Yes. The converse is true. Frustrate your customer. Try to walk over them like they are in your way. Do not communicate with them when you do not do what you have said you will do. They will not come back except maybe with an attorney and a lawsuit. And they certainly will not recommend you to their personal network of friends and family. Oh contrair! They will be the first to steer potential customers away from you.

It's your choice. Yes, it takes a little extra effort and time, but it pays huge rewards. Under commit. Over deliver. Do what you say you are going to do. If something comes up and you cannot meet a commitment, contact them. Do not force them to hunt you down for an explanation. Ensure to deliver on the secondary commitment when you failed on the initial. Make them feel valued if your income is important to you.


-Peace

3 comments:

Bill (cycleguy) said...

I sense...oh I don't know...a little more than frustration here? lol You are so right though Allen. Tragically, it happens in the church as well. That is when my dander gets up a bit.

Allen Madding said...

Bill,

Maybe I am just too type A for my own good, but it kinda fries my grits at times :)

-Peace

Arizona Harley Dude said...

I think customer service went out in the 70s. Now it seems like the business model is 10,000,000 people and if I sell each of them 1 thing I will get rich.