Don't You Want My Business?

By Ron Rosenberg

As businesses downsize - reduc­ing the number of people working, without reducing the actual work that needs to get done - the level of service is naturally going to decline.

That’s why it’s reassuring to find a business that actually under­stands what customer service is all about.

I recently had a client talk to me about Crowder Brothers Ace Hard­ware in Sarasota, FL.

As you know, the smaller independent hardware stores are constantly competing for custom­ers with the “Big Box” stores in that industry: Home Depot, Lowes, and, to a lesser extent, Wal-Mart.

What these large, national chains have in terms of economies of scale and brand imaging, can be more than offset by a smaller competitor that delivers outstand­ing service in the stores themselves.

And that’s exactly what happens here, and at other smart Ace Hard­ware locations.

A Different Kind Of Greeting

When you walk into the store, a helpful person (remember, Ace is the place with the helpful hard­ware folks...) asks what you’re looking for, and what your name is. She tells you what aisle the item is in and points you in the right direc­tion. But while you’re on your way, something else happens.

The person you just spoke with, whom you told what you were look­ing for, radios ahead to the employ­ee working in that department with that same information: your name, and what you’re trying to find.

When you arrive at the appro­priate aisle, he is there waiting for you with a cheerful, “Are you Bob? Fantastic! I’m Sam, and I can help you find those wing nuts you’re looking for.”

That’s a lot better than just sending someone off on his own to wander up and down the aisles, desperately looking for an obscure hardware item, with a blank ex­pression on his face because the item’s location seems to be a better-kept secret than the formula for Coke.

In a way, this is nothing new; it’s simply an example of personalizing a message, except that instead of it being used in a printed piece, it’s being incorporated into the store’s ongo­ing customer-service procedures.

Sorry About Your Lawn...

On the other hand, we have a situation that happened just this morning. I'm the president of our homeowner's association - a job I have because no one else seems to want it! And I understand why - it's a lot of work - with people complaining about lots of things - and it's a volunteer position, so it's definitely not worth what I'm getting paid!

One of the problems we had last year was that the lawn-maintenance company that services our neighborhood was starting to get a bit slack in terms of the quality of the work.

We were getting quite a few comments and decided to put the job out for bids for the next year. We identified several companies the managing agent had worked with - along with our current service - and invited them all to submit proposals.

One company stood out from the others in terms of price, timing, and how they said they would manage the account for us, and this was the choice we made.

As you've probably guessed, things didn't turn out quite the way we expected.

It took way too long for them to trim the shrubs the first time this year; they seriously underestimated how much bark mulch we would need for the common areas and only did half the job, and they mowed the lawns in a way that looks like an 11-year-old did it.

There were entire areas they missed; they didn't do the edging properly, and they used the blowers on the driveways...before they actually mowed the lawns!

So we had the customer-service manager and his boss, the branch manager, come out to the neighborhood to meet with us and one of our neighbors to show them first-hand where their crews have been negligent in fulfilling the terms of the contract - or even in using basic common sense.

While they did recognize the problems and accept full responsibility for the situation, the branch manager made one comment I found particularly interesting. He said that since we were a new community for them it might take a few months for them to really learn the neighborhood.

He said they were going to take steps to make sure the situation was corrected, including weekly site visits by the site manager and hands-on monitoring by the branch manager.

This all struck me as odd for several reasons.

First, they should have "learned" what was required before they actually bid on the job in the first place. Second, since we were a new client, they should have taken extra care to make sure that the work was being done properly - especially since we had selected them specifically because we were unsatisfied with our previous contractor.

And finally, once they became aware that there was a problem - which started to happen two months earlier - these steps certainly should have been put in place immediately.

So with these two cases in mind, let's look at some actions you can consider in your own business.

What About You?

Can you customize the delivery of your service to achieve a positive effect? Here are three simple strat­egies you can try:

1. Give Them a Call – Whenever you get new customers, clients, or members, have a member of your organization’s senior management team call to introduce him/herself, thank them for their business, and let them know it’s okay to call with any questions they may have.

Putting a human face on an oth­erwise faceless organization helps assure customers that someone will be there in case there’s a problem.

2. Cement the Relationship – The first 30 days are critical, and anything you can do to create a bond during that time will go a long way towards keeping that customer long-term.

3. Stay in Touch – The more you know about your customers, the more you can deliver products and services tailored specifically to their needs. Send a copy of an article they might be interested in with a handwritten note. Send copies of relevant books they might enjoy. Ask for their opinions in areas in which you know they have special expertise.

It’s About the Relationship

Anything you can do to make the entire process of working with you enjoyable, profitable, and fun, should be included as a part of your formal customer-service processes.

In a time when most businesses are cutting back, even the most basic level of service will stand out and help you stand head and shoulders above everyone else.

Going the extra step and deliver­ing outstanding service on a consis­tent basis will position you as the only logical solution, and will actu­ally make everyone else look almost incompetent by comparison.

Great marketing goes only so far. You need to deliver on the promise when people respond to your offers.

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August Interview

Cher Holton, Ph.D.

The Holton Consulting Group

How to Build Teams that Deliver Extraordinary Results

Considering all the people you work with on various teams, it sometimes seems like a miracle that anything actually gets done. Fortunately, there are specific actions you can take to build teams that deliver extraordinary results; and this month, Cher Holton, one of the leaders in the field of teamwork and president of The Holton Consulting Group, Inc., will explain how to make it all work.

Fortunately, there are specific actions you can take to build teams that deliver extraordinary results; and this month, Cher Holton, one of the leaders in the field of teamwork and president of The Holton Consulting Group, Inc., will explain how to make it all work.

You'll discover:

  • The issues that impact individual performance
  • Roadblocks to effective teamwork
  • Team-building exercises that actually deliver results!

 

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