'Tis Only My Opinion!

February 2000 - Volume 20, Number 2

Your Business is kaput when you forget the Customer!

In this age of mergers and acquisitions, consolidations, and downsizing, the financial players trumpet how much money is being saved and the potential effect on the bottom line.

Yet, the demand for financial performance often leads to a major decline in customer service. The result is alienation of the customer base. Hence, the financial players get a short-term windfall at the expense of a major loss in the future as customers leave in droves.

As business reduces its mid-management levels in a drive to cut costs and hires bottom-level employees without any training in company policy and customer service, is it any wonder that the interplay of sales staff and the customer is now approaching the breaking point for many companies.

By forgetting one of Stanley Marcus's admonitions to treat the customer fairly and respectfully, today's management is determined to forget that the customer is the one that ultimately pays their perks, salaries, and stock options. It would seem that very few of today's CEO's have ever had to interface with a customer for the impediments that are placed in their path are formidable.

Lesson #1 - Phoning a company for assistance.

Technology has invented the automated telephone attendant. It would seem that the companies and/or agencies that employ them to eliminate a telephone operator have forgotten that the time of their customer is also important. Don't you just love to hear the menu options in both English and Spanish, and have to wade through five or six sub-menu option choices to discover that the menu does not have a way to ask for their mailing address, or that you would like to speak to someone in the loan department but you don't know their name.

A few CEO's who actually have tried to use the public phone system and the phone numbers listed on their literature have reacted quickly to put a human voice powered by a real-live telephone operator who can assist the customer in getting to the person and/or department they need.

Do you get aggravated when after spending several minutes listening to menu's and sub-menu's and punching 1 for this, 2 for that, 9 to hear the menu repeated, you get disconnected, or have to take a phone call on the other line, and have to go through the entire process again and again and again and again . . . Well, you get the picture and if you don't lose your cool . . . why not!.

Recently, we had a client who needed to contact Technical Support for warranty work on his computer. In order to find the correct department despite having an 800 number on the warranty papers, it only took 1.5 hours. Then, they were shunted around the system for two additional hours when the connection was broken and they had to start over.

And to hear the endless message repeated every 30 seconds while listening to music you would never otherwise hear, "All of our customer service operators are currently busy with other customers, do not hang up, Your call is important to us." Right . . . or "The estimated time until a customer service operator will be able to answer your call is 25 minutes, do not hang up . . . calls will be answered in the order received." And then it is another 45 minutes until the connection is broken and you get to start all-over. Guess they were going out for coffee and/or lunch.

Needless to say, the computer company who sold the client 150 computers for its work-force less than 3 months earlier has been black-balled from future RFQ's (Request for Quotations).

Lesson #2 - Who knows the company policy?

Operating a high-end department store today would seem to involve paying attention to your customer and not alienating them. Don't you believe it for a minute!

On Friday, a client went to local department store and purchased $200 worth of crystal champagne flutes for an employee awards dinner. For years, this department store had provided a gift-wrapping service to its customers for items purchased both within and outside the store. The client asked the sales person in the china and crystal department if they still wrapped gifts from any place and was assured that was still the policy.

The client also had some additional gifts personalized for his employees at a nearby store in the same mall. He phoned from the store doing the personalized gifts the Customer Service desk at the department store where the gift wrapping is done and was assured that each gift could be wrapped for $5.00 a box.

The next day, the client had a courier pickup the personalized gifts and take them to the Customer Service area at the department store for wrapping. They refused to wrap anything that had not been sold by their store saying that their policy had changed in November 1999 because of "problems with liability."

The courier then discovered that two of the champagne flutes were broken and returned to the crystal and china department to purchase replacements. The manager of the crystal and china department and his sales staff were flabbergasted and could not believe that the policy had changed. The manager even contacted the Assistant Store Manager about the policy change and was informed that indeed it had been changed.

Is this another case of lawyers getting in the way of making sure of a satisfied customer?

The courier on his way to another department store who did provide the service then asked 8 other sales personnel of this department store the following question.

Does your store wrap gifts purchased outside the store?

In every case, the answer was "YES! Customer Service is located on the third floor, just follow the signs."

So this department store aggravated the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company, his executive secretary, the courier and did not collect $40 of highly profitable, gift-wrap margin business. Sometimes, I wonder if companies even consider their customer requirements! Perhaps, they just want to see how far they can push them. And the management of this department store chain openly wonders why their bottom line is going south!

Lesson #3 - It is fixed.

Recently, a client took an automobile into an automotive repair shop for service. During the repair, the mechanic discovered additional work that needed to be done but which was not evident to the client. The mechanic contacted the client and explained what needed to be done. The client gave the go-ahead and suggested that since it would take a few days before the parts were available that the vehicle could be returned to the client's garage.

That night the owner of the automotive repair shop forgot to take the vehicle to the client's garage. As luck would have it, the vehicle was vandalized and the driver's side window was smashed. The next morning, the owner of the automotive repair shop called long-distance to personally tell the client about the damage and told him that he would have the window replaced at no charge.

The vehicle has now been repaired, and returned to the client's garage, and the owner is the recipient of a thank-you letter from the client which is proudly displayed in the waiting room and has been used in newspaper and radio advertising by the automotive repair shop.

Now I ask you . . . Which of these companies is liable to have a satisfied customer for life?

Amazing, you did not even have to think!

Building a successful business is simple if you remember the following rule.

You can build a successful business if you provide a quality product and/or service at a reasonable price coupled with the very best customer service in your field.

And of the three, customer service is the most important.

Isn't it amazing how many companies seem to forget this basic fact.

But then - 'Tis Only My Opinion!

Fred Richards
February 2000

This issue of 'Tis Only My Opinion was copyrighted by Adrich Corporation in February 2000.

Tis Only My Opinion is intended to provoke thinking, then dialogue among our readers. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.


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