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Are You Generating Transactions Or New Customers?

May 26, 2014
Dog Once upon a time there was a CEO of a pet food company who wanted to increase his profits from making dog food. So he consulted the wisest men in his company, who all knew about developing computer programs that would analyze the nutrition needs of dogs and the nutrition content of various grains and food supplements.

Eager to please the CEO, the wise men programmed their computers to come up with the optimum combination of grains and supplements that would meet the nutrition needs of man’s best friend at the lowest price.

But a strange thing happened.

During the first six months of selling optimum nutrition mix at the lowest price, profit margins at the company declined. The next quarter, profits dived once more. “What is going on?” the CEO demanded.

Since his wise men didn’t have an answer, the CEO consulted the greatest expert in the land, who knew all about the mysterious science of systems analysis and who conducted an extensive study (at considerable expense).

When he was finished, the expert appeared before the CEO. “Have you discovered why our profits are declining?” the CEO demanded.

“I have,” said the expert, leaning on a thick report. “The dogs don’t like it.”

(As told in The Capitalist Philosophers, by Andrea Gabor)

Dog lying down You enter a retail or personal services store. The staff ignore you, or mutter some form of incomprehensible greeting. You’re not asked if you’d like some help finding a product or what kind of service you’re seeking.

Or you ask where something is, only to be ignored. Or if you’re lucky, an outstretched hand motions somewhere towards the back of the store: “It’s back there along the wall, beside the whatchamacallit.” You search in vain, no one offers any help and you finally leave the store in frustration, vowing never to return.

Then there’s the famous scene of trying to return merchandise, to discover an onerous process involving numerous steps and a store manager whose approval is needed but who cannot be located. You finally succeed in making the return, only to feel somewhat guilty for having generated such an amount of work for staff.

There’s an endless of array of situations and stories one can recount when it comes to customer service. And that’s not even touching call centers, which raises the degrading of consumers to a new level. The point is, at the core of this problem is treating customers–human beings–as transactions.

The maxim “Treat others as how you would like to be treated” would seem to be the obvious solution. However, the obvious doesn’t always hold in real life. I’ve sometimes pondered how those individuals who provide crappy, rude service to customers, regardless of industry, react when they’re on the receiving end.

Me? I’m a demanding old codger. BUT, having spent several decades in and around the area of customer-client service, starting back in the late seventies when I first worked in consumer lending, through three decades in government service branches and currently in retail sales, I consistently treat people as how I want to be treated when I walk into a store or phone a call center.

It’s not rocket science. Yet it seems that most companies still don’t get it. They’re the ones providing mediocre service at best. And then there are those that step on customers, wondering why their business is faltering as sales slide. Then there is the minority: companies that truly get it when making the connection between outstanding customer service and making money, and lots of it. And along the way customers are happy and more than satisfied, telling their families and friends about their experiences. The beauty behind this is that this is FREE advertising.

dog2 Examples abound of companies that advertise heavily, spending huge amounts of money yet when customers walk into, say, a motor vehicle showroom, the sales staff are indifferent, rude or arrogant. Given how competitive the automotive industry is, I’ve yet to understand why automotive dealerships haven’t figured this out.

I look at my own history of buying cars over some 35 years and there are only two instances I can recall where the sales guys were superb. They treated my wife, Sue, and me with respect, and they remembered our names, coming over to talk to us when we brought our vehicles in for servicing. Indeed, one of the fellows is the salesman from whom I’ve bought our two current vehicles. Three of our kids have purchased their cars from Roy, and they, in turn, including me have referred friends to him. And it’s why Roy is Hyundai’s top sales person in Canada. Roy’s loyal customer base is growing steadily, and he doesn’t have to pay a cent for promotions or advertising.

To paraphrase political pundit James Carver, who as Bill Clinton’s campaign advisor in 1992 said in reference to President H.W. Bush, “It’s about the economy, stupid!” Well, for the purpose of this post, “It’s about customer service, stupid!” One could state it more elegantly; however, it’s more fun to use the vernacular sometimes when stressing a vital point.

The key to providing superior customer service is learning how to make an emotional connection with each customer. Yes, most of the time service providers are spending only a brief amount of time with customers. However, what gets overlooked is building repeat business, where a customer makes your establishment his or her go-to place for certain products or services.

That’s accomplished by focusing intently on their needs and wants, presenting options when possible, remembering their names or activities they engage in, etc. The aim is to make that customer feel like they’re the only one in the store at that moment. And the next time they’re in you ask them how the product they bought worked out. Or maybe they’ve returned from the trip they told you about. Ask them about it.

Service providers aren’t perfect and certainly don’t walk on water. However, the folks I’ve worked with in different sectors have made a strong effort to engage customers. And it pays big rewards to the business when a loyal customer following is created.

It all starts with making the emotional connections with those who enter your business. It takes additional effort and needs to be done consistently, each and every time. But it’s also enjoyable for those serving others. It may be work; however, incorporating an element of fun into helping others should be encouraged. After all, we’re human beings who are seeking more than just transactions.

If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?

– Will Rogers

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2015 9:18 pm

    I agree with you completely on finding out what the CUSTOMER wants (whether dogs or people) and about CARING about customer service!!! I’m glad to hear someone intelligent speaking up about this!

    • August 12, 2015 11:16 pm

      Thanks Lynne for the vote of confidence. Indeed, I’ve been around customer-client service a very long time. Since leaving the public service almost five years ago (before that I worked in consumer lending), I’ve worked part-time in retail, currently outdoor gear and apparel. It’s usually fun work, and I enjoy helping people.

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