Dec 28, 2000

What Customer Service Means for You

Many of us talk about how we make customers our number-one priority. But surprisingly, this area is sometimes cast aside, lacking the necessary effort or without solid direction.

Repeat Business
Unless you set your policies and train every employee to look out for additional and repeat business, it just won't happen. For example, a man rented a softener from a major water dealer for several years. When he sold his home, he stopped by the company and told them to finish the paperwork, but failed to ask what he could do to soften the water in his new home. (He was moving only a few blocks away.) The result, the company lost a happy customer to a competitor for the simple reason that they didn't ask for the business. This occurred because the company did not have a policy or training on what to ask when a customer is moving. It is ironic that many companies pay for names of new homeowners but are not sharp enough to follow their own customers to new residences.

As another example, technicians also can be trained for extra business. For example, when they are out on a service call, they should suggest a resin cleaning to the customer, which may result in getting the job simply by making the customer aware a cleaning was necessary and asking if they wanted this additional service. Resin cleaning is a highly profitable add-on to any service order. Most customers will need such things as plumbing repairs or alterations, and many companies just won't ask for the business.

In the automotive business, good managers always are reviewing work orders to see how much was added on by the mechanic or adviser. Be on the lookout for all clients who were possibly overlooked because technicians did not ask about resin cleaning, outdoor spigots that bypass the softener or other kinds of add-on services that increase the value of your business. For instance, if a company has three technicians who average three calls per day and they each are able to add on $50 in customer pay service at every service call, approximately $9,000 per month or $108,000 per year would be added to service sales.

Customer Service Policies
To really please your customers consistently, you need to have set policies and procedures on things such as clean up after installation, how to answer customer questions about new equipment, how to dress and how to talk about the company to the customer. If there are no set training or policies, who is deciding which procedures to follow? The employee on the job, and his priorities may not be the same as yours.

For instance, L.L. Bean, a mail order company, trains new employees for eight hours on company policies and procedures when answering phone calls before the new employee is allowed to answer his first call. Don't allow employees to just "wing it." Make sure all employees are properly trained on policies and procedures.

Could the 'Wow' Principal Apply?
In his book, Moments Of Truth, Jan Carlzon talks about going the extra mile to please the customer. This customer-service philosophy has since become known as the "Wow Principal." The basis of the idea is that a company needs to wow customers by doing a little extra to earn their loyalty. How does this apply to you? Start by appointing one team member to call each person who received service yesterday and ask if everything was to his satisfaction. When implementing this plan, make sure there are procedures for promptly fixing anything that was not satisfactory. Some companies leave out this critical step and it could lead to further complications and an even less satisfied customer.

As an example, almost every supermarket in America trains their cashiers to ask if a customer "found everything" when he checks out. Fewer train their staff on good ways to handle the situation when the customer couldn't find what he wanted. Remember that points are scored with the customer only if his problem is resolved.

In addition, try wowing customers by implementing a policy of being on time or the labor is free. (Customers hate waiting for a service man.) A policy that salt and water delivery people carry heavy jugs and bags and put them away for seniors could be a welcome customer service as well. These are just two examples that may or may not apply. Work out policies that fit your individual company.

Recent surveys show that customers are looking for service, not price. In every town there is a hotel that charges $39 a night for a room and one that charges $250 per night. The more expensive one is usually busier as long as it delivers value for the money.

In these times of bad service, it doesn't take much to shine. Management Guru Peter Drucker says, "Service stinks in America." And he is correct in many cases. Customers will remember being wowed, and word of mouth will carry the company name far.

Company Attitude
If you really believe the customer is number-one, remind staff members that this is true every day. Realize that employees who are treated well and wowed by the company tend to treat customers well themselves. So try wowing staff members-maybe with a gift for a technician's new baby, a free dinner for a rookie salesperson who went the extra mile or flowers for your office staff just to say "thank you."

Demonstrate to employees that the customer comes first. Watch the terms and language you and the staff use. If employees hear you say something such as, "Some idiot called and wants his leak fixed today. What do they think, we just sit here to serve them?" it will become their attitude as well. Always treat your two biggest assets-your customers and employees-with the respect they deserve. After all, they make the business.

You Get What You Inspect, Not What You Expect
Some companies will never have great customer service because they do not have policies and procedures on exactly how to do each job with customer service in mind. Others have the procedures but fail to inspect and correct. The only way to implement great customer service is to inspect jobs constantly and correct anything that is not up to your standards. This could include a call or survey of customer satisfaction, or dropping in on sales or service people during appointments to inspect how they appear to customers. It could include listening to incoming calls and enforcing policies as well.

Customer service is important. It more than pays for itself in doing the job right the first time and in generating referrals and repeat business. Take a look at how important customer satisfaction is at your company. Are there detailed policies and procedures, or does the staff just wing it? Are you getting what you inspect or what you expect? Great dealers agree that spending time and money on great customer service pays big dividends.

About the Author
Carl Davidson is president of Sales & Management Solutions, which provides sales and management training designed exclusively for the water equipment industry. For more than 13 years, he has helped more than 1,400 companies in seven countries. For a free demonstration tape and catalog, contact the company at 800-941-0068;

About the author