CUSTOMER SERVICE AND THE BOTTOM LINE

businessBy Ray Hodge.

Security companies, sole traders and those blessed with the entrepreneurial gift spend inordinate amounts of time and energy focussing on increasing sales and profits, and rightly so. Always on the hunt for new opportunities, they create front-end strategies, strategic partnerships and referral mechanisms to build the ever-evolving sales pipeline. Included in this front-end activity is often expensive, laborious and intensive activity centred around creating new customers, which can sometimes yield little in the way of results. Perhaps there is an easier way?

Ockham’s Razor (one of the statements linked to the medieval philosopher, William of Ockham, that accentuates the shaving away of unnecessary assumptions) indicated, “the best solution to a problem is usually the easiest one”. Business owners and managers tend to overcomplicate the problems and issues that surround them; looking for the one cause with the easiest solution is at the heart of the statement.

In my personal experience, both as a business owner and a customer, one of the ‘easier ways’ sits right under the progressive and analytical noses of most business owners. It escapes their notice because of its profound simplicity. That easier way is by providing exceptional customer service and adding significant value to both existing and new customers. Following is both a positive and negative, personally experienced example for reinforcement.

Walking with some friends on a warm summer evening along the South Bank restaurant strip in Brisbane, the place was abuzz and most restaurants were overflowing with patrons. We walked past one that had only a few customers, but it enticed us nevertheless due to its aromatic impact. We decided to eat there. What happened over the next hour helped me understand why the place was empty. The welcome was gloomy, we had to ask for water, I lit the candle on our table, we had to wait (and wait) for the waitress (who was not busy), we had to get up and get serviettes, there was no eye contact as staff walked past us… and so it went. The food was great, service was lousy and I have never been back, nor will I ever.

The antithesis to this experience was my first visit to the Pan Pacific Hotel in Perth, Australia. Warmly welcomed, called by name, preferences listed, rooms cleaned perfectly and so on, made for ongoing and repeat visits. Having stayed there over a 12-month period, I decided, for a bit of variety, to try out another hotel in the vicinity. The rooms and presentation were excellent, but the service was incredibly average. The cleaner left dirty cups in my room, no one called me by name, my booking was messed up, eye contact was lacking and so on. Needless to say, I am back at the Pan Pacific. Upon my return, nothing had changed. Warm greetings with numerous “nice to see you Mr Hodge” and I am treated as if I am the most important person there. What was I thinking by trying somewhere else?

The restaurant referred to above, like many other businesses, is potentially spending thousands of dollars on advertising, but lousy customer service only gives them one-time business rather than repeat business. Thus the bottom line is seriously impacted by both increased advertising spend and decreased patronage; not a great recipe for any business. On the other hand, the hotel, after dealing with it once, created a pathway back with no additional marketing cost and has extracted large amounts of revenue from my wallet.

The Easy Way For a Healthy Bottom Line
For new customers:
• Add value straight up. This might, for example, be in the form of an upgrade to what customers have paid for, a small thank you gift, additional service or a free product.
• Ensure the process is explained to customers, along with what they can expect, pricing and so on.
• Take the risk away. Offer strong guarantees in favour of the customer that emphasises that the business has to perform and that their patronage is valued.
• Call customers by name.
• After customers have completed their first lot of business, follow-up with a phone call to ensure their complete satisfaction, or send them a loyalty card or discount voucher to assist in their return.
• Ask customers for permission to be added to a mail-out list and keep in touch with them through newsletters or updates every 30 days.

For existing customers:
• Develop a system that when customers call or walk in, their details are easily accessible. Train all team members to remember names.
• Create levels of memberships that have increasing value.
• Reward customers for their ongoing patronage. Examples might include upgrades, free entry to upcoming events, social invites, special client evenings, Christmas gifts or complimentary drinks.
• Give preferential treatment. Categorise customers and provide something to top-tier customers over and above what is provided to the general customer base.

Referrals
Referrals are another one of the simplest, easiest and most overlooked ways of generating business. Simply asking for referrals works. The acquisition cost is next to nothing and is the absolute best way of filling the sales pipeline.

Training the Frontline Team
This is easy, but often neglected. Train all staff to smile (including yourself), talk intelligibly, look at customers in the eye and have staff go out of their way to make the customer’s experience incredible. It might mean making coffee for customers, cleaning up after a job (in the tradesman’s case), showing them around, explaining the process and so on.

Surveys and Follow-Up
The best method here is a phone call. BMW Brisbane is exceptional at this. Within 24 hours of my car being serviced, and without faltering in five years, I receive a phone call to ensure I am happy with the service received.

In closing, here are some personally experienced examples.

The Great
• security staff who remember my name with the simplicity of a genuine smile
• employees who notice the small things, taking it upon themselves to improve my condition
• the security officer, mindful of my time, who works to get me through the checkpoint as quickly and diligently as possible without compromising standards
• the company that makes me feel like I am their most important client, not just a number or dollar

The Bad
• the security officer who asks, “What do you want?”
• the security team member who asks, “Can I help you?” when what he or she clearly means is, “Please do not bother me, I have better things to do”
• the installer who grunts and leaves a mess
• salespeople who are more interested in getting the sale than in my needs

The Ugly
• tech support who, upon hearing my complaint, say, “I understand” – how can they, they are not me!
• invoices that end up double what I expected because things were not explained properly at the start
• overhearing foul language from security staff

As in all things, what business owners and staff value shapes their actions. If the company puts customers first and communicates that customers are important, they will more than happily be long-term, paying customers. They will refer their friends, be the business’ evangelist and open their wallets.

Ray Hodge is the director of Ignite Business Consulting. Known as the ‘efficiency driver’, Ray appears regularly as a speaker in Australia and consults to businesses and organisations, with the Department of the Australian Prime Minister and Cabinet on his list of accomplishments. He has held positions as general manager in the tourism and construction industries and has successfully run his own businesses in the finance, property and accommodation sectors. Ray has coached and provided consulting services to leaders and teams for over 20 years. He can be contacted at ray@ignitebusinessconsulting.com.au or directly on 0403 341 105.