Last month I got started on the importance of establishing and maintaining a relationship with your customers. I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine yesterday and it really brought the point home. It reminded me of a personal experience I had years ago, which I will share with you a few paragraphs down. I think you’re going to be amazed by the end of this article at how long and far reaching the importance of getting this right really is. Let’s get started.
Consider that there are many ways you can classify a customer. One is whether or not they will tell you about a problem, perceived or otherwise. There are those whose nature it is that will tell you about it and may do so in a manner that can sometimes be less than civil. Then there are those who will endure whatever it is they think you did wrong and never say a word about it. Let me ask you a question. Which one do you hope for? The one that makes your life easy or the one that might get in your face about it?
The temptation is to go for the easier solution but, in your heart, you know you would rather have the customer “complain”. At least if they complain you have an opportunity to correct things and make them right. If they walk away, you might not have any aggravation (and who needs more of that?) but you just might not have a customer left. And the sad part is, for those that walk away, you’ll probably never know about it. Whatever it is they think you did to them, you might be doing to other customers. It might not appear to be a big deal in your mind, but it could weigh heavily from the side of your customer.
I’m going to offer up a few examples. First, let’s talk about something totally outside our industry but is something we have all been through. Eating out. Everyone’s done that. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be fast food or fine dining.
Here’s me: You serve me something that is a little over or undercooked. Maybe there is a little too much spice or not enough. The bread tray is put on the table and the bread is a little stale. The butter in the little plastic packs is totally melted. Maybe the food service took a little longer than it should have. Maybe they brought my appetizer out at the same time as the main course. Maybe the server never refilled my water glass. This list could get longer but I’m just trying to make the point that every business has its own “laundry list” of things that could go wrong at each customer encounter. Ours is no exception.
Here’s my solution: As long as you haven’t served me absolutely ice cold, overcooked, over spiced, foul tasting swill, I’ll probably eat it or make an attempt to. I’ll pay the bill, leave an appropriate tip and leave the restaurant. And now, I’ll exercise my freedom of expression and reaction to the meal I’ve just had. I’ll never go back again. And I mean never! More on never shortly.
Here’s my wife: You do any of the above to her and, (Here’s her solution) you will know about it immediately, and with no holds barred. For your sake and that of your business, you better pray that you have customers like my wife. I mean it. At least you will have a chance to correct the error and keep the customer.
Here’s one of my personal stories. For those of you who don’t know, I spent most of my life in the automotive aftermarket. There was a time, before technology took over, that I could repair just about anything on a car as long as I had the time to do it. At one point, as I started working as an outside salesman for a warehouse distributor I decided that my car was in need of a “tune up”. Yeah, I’m old. I changed points, plugs, cap, rotor condenser and wires. I used the top quality of every product we had in the warehouse. It was running like it was new.
About a week later, after several days of heavy rainfall, I go out to start the car and it just refuses. I’m a commissioned salesman. I live 25 miles from where my territory begins and I have customers to see. I have no time to waste so I call a local gas station and ask them to tow it in and I’ll be in touch throughout the day. Fortunately, I was able to drive my wife to work and use her car.
My first call to the station: “We replaced the wires. It’s still not starting.” Second call: “We changed the cap and rotor. Still not running.” More of the same on the follow up calls until finally it was “magically” running. I knew what they were doing after the first call but I needed my car back and I was 50 miles away across a bridge and didn’t have much recourse. All my customers, where I usually had my car maintained were on the same side of the bridge as I was. When I get home that night I have my wife drop me off at the station to pick up my car. The guy hands me the bill with a list of the parts he replaced and a charge for labor. You and I both know that the problem centered around the through soaking of everything under the hood which needed nothing more than drying out properly. I write him a check (that’s what we did in those days) and then I hand him my business card. He looks at it and then back at me. I explain to him that I am in the business and I had just replaced every one of the parts he is charging me for last week. I know what he has done and will be sure to tell everyone I know how I was treated. Then I walked out the door.
I lived in that neighborhood for 29 years. I never walked through that door again. My wife and family never got gas there again. Every friend and neighbor I told didn’t go back there. Even years after he went out of business and someone else owned the station, I never walked in there again. I would like to tell you that “That’s just me”, but it’s not.
Now to my conversation that started this blog. I volunteer for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department in their C.O. P. program. My partner and I are on our weekly patrol and he’s telling me about how his car needs tires and it’s only 8 months till he turns it in on his lease. We’re talking about where he went to look for tires and where he finally bought them. When he mentions one place where he says they offered him a certain national brand of tires at a good price but he would never put them on his car. I ask why. They are a well known brand. I don’t understand.
He tells me about how when he was in the Army he had needed tires for his car and got 4 new ones of this national brand installed. He had them for a short time and 2 of them went bad. He went back to the tire shop where he had bought them and the manager told him it was because of the way he drove and wouldn’t do anything for him and made him buy 2 new tires. The reality was that he rarely drove off base. Fast forward a couple of months and he is at a new duty station. Another tire goes bad. He brings it into the national brands’ service center where the manager tells him “These tries are defective. They had a problem at the factory and the 2 tires you still have on the car are part of that batch.” He replaced the 2 tires for free but unfortunately couldn’t do anything about the other 2 because he was no longer in possession of them.
Here’s the kicker. Get ready for this because if you don’t think people will remember a “problem” this ought to convince you. The guy I’m talking about is a Korean War veteran. He is 88 years old. He has NEVER but another tire on any of his families’ cars from that manufacturer. And I’m telling you it is an instantly recognized name.
© Bill Rosenberg
BillR Services, LLC