By Debra Thompson
It's the latest watchword. That's all we hear about today. There are tons of books out there, articles being written in every magazine we pick up and seminars going on everywhere discussing the importance of good customer service. But many of the owners I am consulting with today still don't get it. They hear it, they talk about it, but they don't really know what to do about it. My observation is that they know they must address it, but if they do, then they personally will have to do something. They personally will have to become very involved in customer relations. This is the frightening challenge that many owners cannot face.
Many owners tell me that they know they should have more contact with their customers, but they just hate doing it. They can sometimes deal with customers at the counter, but to go outside of the center is a definite no. That's why they have hired counter personnel and outside sales representatives.
My question to you, the owner, is, "If you have very little or no direct contact with your customers, how do you personally know your customers true feelings about your store, your counter personnel, your outside sales representatives, the quality of your work, your delivery systems, etc.?"
You know based on your Profit & Loss Statements that there are some areas that need to be adjusted or worked on, but what exactly are the problems or issues that you need to deal with? What I see happening out in the field is that many of the owners are "empowering by default". They turn over this entire issue of customer relations and customer service to their employees. They rely on their employees to give them their versions of what is going on rather than hearing it directly from the customer's mouth.
These statements are not meant to be negative against your employees. Employees are reiterating the stories and comments as they perceive them. But in many instances, when an owner asks a customer a question, the answers are often very different from what employees say they are saying. Customers don't lie to employees, but many times they won't expose their real feeling because they feel it doesn't matter any way. They may feel that the owner will never hear about it, or if they do, will not even care.
Many owners don't understand the power that their title as "Owner" holds in the eyes of a customer. When an owner gets involved, the customer definitely gets the feeling that what they say will be taken seriously. They are flattered. They feel that someone of importance really does care. If the owner is asking questions and getting involved, then this company really cares about them as a customer. When this first step is taken, you as an owner will be shocked by what will begin to happen.
You will begin to get honest input directly from your customers as to what they like about your company and also what they don't like. Owners are usually afraid to ask anything because they don't want to hear bad things. But if you are afraid to hear, how can you make any changes? You don't honestly know what needs to be fixed. By asking your customers, you are doing the best survey possible. Plus you are building up a relationship with your customer.
You cannot succeed today by trying to be all things to all people. You must find a unique value to deliver to your chosen market. In the printing business you increase the value offered to customers by enhancing the service. But you can only specialize in satisfying unique needs by developing relationships and knowing the specific needs of your customers. You must make it your business to know the people you sell to and the products and services they need. Your proposition to the customer must be: We have the best total solution for you and we provide all the support you need to achieve optimum results and/or value from whatever products you buy. When we offer the best total solution, it may not mean that we offer the lowest price, but that we provide the best overall result and best value for our customer.