Business Coach: Any Weeds in Your Customer Parking Lot?
By Dr Paul E Adams | April 30, 2004
When a customer enters my store, forget me, he is king. - John Wanamaker
And with good reason. Don't think that false advertising and phony deals are restricted to the Internet. Pick up any newspaper and you will find ads with misleading copy and those so important details buried in magnifying glass print. Who likes it when their phone rings at dinnertime with a telemarketing sales pitch? Equally aggravating are the impersonal hypes on prerecorded phone messages. And no less upsetting are consumers who go shopping or dinning and are greeted by rude impolite sales clerks or waiters. It is disturbing that so many customers are treated in such ways that only masochists will welcome.
Besides such treatment, many who complain are ignored or passed off as unhappy shoppers who expect too much or don't read the fine print. Often complaints are excused as customers wanting something for nothing. It is nearly a century ago that Henry Ford announced the Model T comes in any color you want, as long as it is black. Such arrogance and independence in the competitive markets of today is the most foolish of all business practices. Although there are companies who live in the past and think their success is as impenetrable as the once mighty Ma Bell. Taking the consumer for granted led to the auto lemon laws and truth in advertising legislation -not enacted without cause or reason.
So, if you want your business to be around for your kids, treat your stable of customers with tender loving care. Before you take a chance of losing them to your hungry competitors, take a reading of your image. Find out what your customers think of your business. Don't rely on your employees telling you. If an employee mistreats a customer, you are kidding yourself if you expect the information to flow up the food chain, and if you do hear about it, expect excuses and denial.
Before any customers quietly move on more pleasant surroundings, talk to them- take their pulse. It is no accident that many successful major companies constantly solicit customers for a report card. The management of these firms understands consumers who have negative experiences, say goodbye, and pamper their frustration by telling their friends and neighbors all about it. Perceptive and successful business owners know it is a long and continuous process to build a solid reputation of quality, service, and honesty.
So, if you are worried about your competition or a giant moving in next door, here is the chance to be different with a simple and effective strategy of customer care.
Start with the image of your business.
What messages do your employees broadcast about your company? How is your phone answered? If you have a hi-tech system that forces a customer to test their patience pushing buttons and listening to rock music while waiting for a live person-unless you gets tons of calls and have tons of employees- toss out the technology and switch to a simple, "may I help you".
Do your customers get a warm hello or a curt be with you in a moment? A take a number attitude may work for busy fast food joints, but it is not the most customer pleasing approach to appeal to those who wish to spend money with you. To find out if you have a problem, ask a few of your customers how they were treated. If they feel you are interested in improving customer relations you may find a gold mine of helpful information. Try it, and do not get defensive when you hear complaints, otherwise you will gain nothing but debating skills.
Be alert to the promises your sales staff make to customers. Your employees are your ambassadors- they reflect you and your approach to business, so be sure you agree with the sales tactics used in your name. Too many salespersons over promise, fail to follow up with customers, and dodge problems. They will become a problem for your company. So pay attention to your sales messages!
And yes, there are plenty of customers that will complain to feather their own nest hoping to get special prices, free services, special privileges. Expect it, but guard against the abuse of your goodwill, with polices that are honest, fair, and promote consumer satisfaction.