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Improving Customer Service

Good service is assumed and expected, so deliver it! We all know what a tip is. I don’t mean the kind of tip you get at the race track. I mean the kind you give to a waiter or waitress at a restaurant. I’ll bet you don’t know where the term, TIP, came from. The origin of this 3-letter word goes a long way toward explaining some important points about customer service.

Many years ago (of course, I don’t know how many years, which makes this cliché work so well for me) when people went to a restaurant, they would give the waiter/waitress a small fee in advance of their meal to guarantee they’d receive good service. The term that was used for this payment was, “Toward Improved Performance”, which was shortened to the popular acronym we all know today as “TIP”. Over time, however, this small fee wasn’t guaranteeing anything since the money was already handed over and the servers no longer had any incentive to perform better. Eventually patrons started holding back the Tip until after the meal. By holding the Tip as hostage, the wait staff would be more incented to perform better so as to earn a higher Tip. Hence the practice we all use today – leaving a Tip after the meal.

Wouldn’t it be great if we got paid a Tip after performing a service for a client? Not just for the money, but as an indicator of how well we did. Of course, we don’t get Tips for what we do; we get paid for what we do. If we do a good job, we get repeat business and referrals, which are much more valuable than Tips. If we do a lousy job, we get no repeat business and a rotten reputation. The principals are the same – get something good for doing a good job, and vice versa.

I can’t seem to figure out, though, why more companies don’t understand this. They seem to only care about collecting the money and getting out so they can go find another customer who’s money they can take. Their focus isn’t on doing the right thing for their customers. Their focus seems to be on getting money by closing the deal. Now, to be fair, it’s not always the business itself that encourages this horrific behavior; it’s typically the individual sales person. However, a company that either encourages such behavior or simply allows it to exist is equally to blame. It’s a matter of corporate culture.

A culture that encourages its employees, especially its sales people, to discover what it is the customer really needs and then presents to them the right solution, will always garner more sales than a company that is simply money motivated. A culture that continues to provide added-value to its clients after the initial sale, will always retain more customers than companies that neglect their existing customer base. A culture that reviews the status of their products, markets, and client base, and ensures they are synergistic, will always succeed over a company that merely reviews its forecasts and revenue goals.

Where I see a huge disconnect is when the company and individual sales person have opposing cultures. If the company’s culture is customer-focused where they concentrate on doing what’s right for their customers, yet their sales person is an insensitive, money-hungry used-car-salesman-type, then he should be fired. Conversely, if the company doesn’t practice the proper customer service standards, pre and post sale, yet the sales person is the total opposite, I just can’t see a long-term relationship between the two. The sales person would be better served by moving to a company with similar views in order to support his actions and values. I know a young man in this position right now (I’m sure you probably know a few yourself). He has great values and a wonderful work ethic. He tries really hard to uncover the true requirements of his prospects and then sells them exactly what is right for them, not what his management wants him to sell. He is totally customer focused, yet he doesn’t compromise his company’s position. In other words, he doesn’t give his customers what they want at the expense of his company. He sells the right products and services for both his clients and his company. Unfortunately, this doesn’t match his company’s culture.

They are more interested in seeing a large forecast, even if it doesn’t include truly qualified opportunities. They are more interested in seeing him on the phone than coming up with creative solutions for his clients. They would rather see him making a large number of phone calls each day rather than several high-quality calls that will lead to sales to businesses that will remain satisfied and loyal to his company. And, worst of all, they would rather see him sell to new clients than up-sell and cross-sell to existing clients, even though it costs his company much less (and therefore generates more profitable sales) to sell to existing customers than to find and sell to new ones. They don’t even have a method for establishing long-term relationships with their clients; such as hiring junior reps to call customers to see if they need anything (since their regular reps aren’t allowed to do that), creating drip marketing campaigns that keep their clients informed with educational information about their industry or the products they are using, or providing any follow up support or service that will keep their customers coming back for more.

A colleague and friend of mine has a wonderful saying that he uses when discussing customer relationships. He says, “You can skin a sheep, but only once. Or, you can shear a sheep over and over again, and keep reaping the benefits for a long time.” This simple analogy packs a powerful punch by stating the obvious. It is saying that we need to establish the right business practices and business culture, as well as hire and train the right people, to build long-term relationships with our customers. We cannot take it for granted that just because someone bought something from us, then that makes them our customer. What makes them our customer is continuously providing value and quality customer service which will build their loyalty and earn their on-going business. This is tantamount to receiving a Tip after the meal – the best Tip you can get is repeat business and referrals. But first you must earn it. Here’s Toward Improved Performance.