CUSTOMER SERVICE AND THE BOTTOM LINE


p048-051-ABS#31-Entrepreneurship-1By Ray Hodge.
Companies, sole traders and those blessed with the entrepreneurial gift, spend inordinate amounts of time and energy focussing on increasing sales and profits, and rightly so. Always on the hunt for new opportunities, we create front end strategies, strategic partnerships and referral mechanisms to build the ever evolving sales pipeline. Included in this front end activity is often expensive advertising, laborious and intensive activity with, at times, little in the way of results. Perhaps there is an easier way? 

Ockham’s Razor (one of the statements linked to the medieval philosopher, William of Ockham, and that accentuates the shaving away of unnecessary assumptions) indicated that “the best solution to a problem is usually the easiest one”. Business owners and managers tend to overcomplicate the problems and issues that surround us, and the looking for the one cause with the easiest solution is at the heart of the statement.

In my personal experience, both as a business owner and a customer, one of the ‘easier ways’ sits right under our progressive and analytical noses. I think because of its profound simplicity, it escapes our notice. That ‘easier way’ is the provision of exceptional customer service and the adding of significant value to both our existing and new clients. 

For our purposes here, I will use both a positive and negative, personally experienced example for reinforcement.

Walking with some friends on a warm summer evening along the South Bank restaurant strip in Brisbane, the place was abuzz and most restaurants were overflowing with patrons. We walked past one that had only a few customers but enticed us nevertheless due to its aromatic impact. We decided to eat there. What happened over the next hour helped me understand why the place was empty. The welcome was gloomy, we had to ask for water, I lit the candle on our table, we had to wait (and wait) for the waitress (who was not busy), we had to get up and get serviettes, there was no eye contact as they walked past us… and so it went. Food was great, service was lousy and I have never been back, nor ever will.

The antithesis to this experience was my first visit to the Pan Pacific Hotel in Perth, Australia. Warmly welcomed, called by name, preferences listed, rooms cleaned perfectly, etc, made for ongoing and repeat visits. Having stayed there over a 12-month period, I decided, for a bit of variety, to try out another hotel in the vicinity. The rooms and presentation were excellent but the service was incredibly average. The cleaner left dirty cups in my room, no one called me by name, my booking was messed up, eye contact was lacking and so on. Needless to say, I am back at the Pan Pacific. Upon my return, nothing had changed. Warm greetings with numerous “nice to see you Mr Hodge” and I am treated as if I am the most important person there. What was I thinking by trying somewhere else?

The restaurant referred to above, like many other businesses, is potentially spending thousands of dollars on advertising, but lousy customer service only gives them one time business rather than repeat business. Thus the bottom line is seriously impacted by both increased advertising spend and decreased patronage; not a great recipe for any business. The hotel on the other hand, after dealing with them once, created a pathway back, with no additional marketing cost and have extracted large amounts of revenue from my wallet.

The Easy Way – For A Healthy Bottom Line

For new clients:

  • Add value straight up. This might be in the form of an upgrade to what they have paid for, a small thank you gift, additional service or product for free, etc.
  • Ensure you explain the process, what they can expect, your pricing, etc.
  • Take the risk away. Offer strong guarantees in favour of the client that emphasises that you have to perform and that their business is valued.
  • Call them by name.
  • After they have completed their first lot of business with you, follow them up with a phone call to ensure their complete satisfaction, send them a loyalty card or discount voucher to assist in their return.
  • Ask their permission to be added to your mail out list and ensure you keep in touch with them through newsletters, updates, etc, every 30 days.

For existing clients:

  • Develop a system that when they call or walk in, their details are easily accessible. Train yourself and your team to remember names.
  • Create levels of memberships that have increasing value.
  • Reward them for their ongoing patronage. Examples might include upgrades, free entry to upcoming events, social invites, special client evenings, Christmas gifts, complimentary drinks, etc.
  • Give preferential treatment. Categorise your customers, allowing you to understand who your top tier is and provide something in addition to what you would for your general client base.

Referrals

Again, one of the simplest, easiest and overlooked ways of generating business. Simply asking for referrals works. Acquisition cost is next to nothing and is the absolute best way of filling your sales pipeline.

Training Your Frontline Team

Easy but neglected. Train your people to smile (or yourself for that matter), talk intelligibly, look at customers in the eye, go out of your way to make the customer’s experience incredible. It might mean making coffee for them, cleaning up after a job (in the tradesman’s case), showing them around, explaining the process, etc.

Surveys And Follow Up

The best method here is a phone call. BMW Brisbane is exceptional at this. Within 24 hours of my car being serviced, and without faltering in five years, I receive a phone call to ensure I am happy with the service received.

In closing, some personally experienced examples:

The Great

  • Staff who remember my name with the simplicity of a genuine smile.
  • Employees who notice the small things, taking it upon themselves to improve my condition.
  • The taxi driver, mindful of my time and money takes the quickest route.
  • The company, hotel or store that makes me feel like I am their most important client, not just a number or dollar.

The Bad

  • The waitress who asks “do ‘yous’ want a drink?”
  • The retail assistant who says “are you happy browsing?” Reinterpreted… “please do not bother me, I have got better things to do”.
  • The tradesman who grunts and leaves a mess.
  • Sales people who are more interested in getting the sale than in my needs.

The Ugly

  • Telephony support who upon hearing my complaint say “I understand”. How can they? They are not me!
  • Invoices that end up double what I expected because things were not explained properly at the start.
  • The bank that provides one teller for lunchtime queues.
  • Overhearing foul language from reception staff.

As in all things, what you value, shapes your actions. And, if your company puts me first and communicates I am important, I will more than happily be a long-term, paying customer. I will refer my friends, be your evangelist and open my wallet. It will then mean decreased marketing costs, increased sales and profit for you. Easy!

 

Ray Hodge is the Director of Ignite Business Consulting. Known as the ‘Efficiency Driver’, Ray appears regularly as a speaker in Australia and consults to businesses and organisations, with the Department of the Australian Prime Minister and Cabinet on his list of accomplishments. He has held positions as General Manager in the Tourism and Construction industries and has successfully run his own businesses in the Finance, Property and Accommodation sectors. Ray has coached and provided consulting services to leaders and teams for over 20 years. Ray can be contacted at ray@ignitebusinessconsulting.com.au or directly on 0403 341 105.

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Comments

  1. Ray’s article reminds me of the quip about democracy; “we believe in it, but we don’t practise it”. Customer service is always mooted as the final frontier of a unique selling proposition for many types of business that can’t otherwise differentiate. It’s often spoken about, but few, in my experience, excel. As Ray comments above, it is obvious that some fall terribly short of any type of customer service. Getting all the ducks lined up for customer service isn’t easy but it is well worth it if you can achieve it. I recall the CEO of Avis Rental, Mr Bob Ansett writing that he would occasionally call one of his franchises/offices to see how well the person answering the phone was doing. Mystery shoppers audit customer service in many cases, but finding exemplars of excellent customer service is a challenge for all consumers and should be a goal of all organisations with customers (which is most).

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