Customers are not just important to your business, they are your business. Without them you have nothing. If you want to be second to none you must listen to your customers and learn from them, because, over time, your customers will tell you everything you need to know to run a successful business. As customers have had more choices, they have become more powerful. Today, they, not the producers, dictate what will be sold.
Looking after your customer through customer service is not a new idea. It has been popular for nearly 30 years. But good customer service is still rarely found because many business leaders look at the world from their own point of view, not their customers. Even if it were happening, excellent customer service is not enough. The minimum aim must be to satisfy your customers. That at least requires us to understand our customers needs and expectations, and to strive to meet them.
Who Works For Whom
Creating value involves getting something from your supplier and doing something to it so that it is worth more in your customers eyes than it was before you laid your hands on it. The only person who can determine whether all your hard work and skill has produced value, of course, is your customer. Customers are not just important to your business, they are your business. If you do not agree, try living without any customers for 90 days. All of this means the only point of view worth worrying about is your customers. You must learn to see the world through your customers eyes not your own. You must see your business from the outside in, not the inside out.
Does your business work for the customer; or are you, through your policies, procedures and traditions, making the customer work for your business
This all sounds like common sense but it is not common occurrence. Most companies claim to be devoted to the satisfaction of their customers needs but end up looking primarily after themselves.
I was having breakfast at an establishment once, out on a patio one sunny summers morning. A party of four rocked up and asked the waiter for a table. when he showed them one outside, the woman asked for one inside.
“Sorry, we only serve breakfast outside”
“But I have hay fever and it is very uncomfortable for me to sit out here. Do you have a table inside”
Since I was sitting by a window I looked inside and saw a restaurant full of empty tables all set up and ready to be used. I expected the waiter to solve his customer’s problem, but instead i heard him say: “We only serve breakfast outside. You could try the restaurant down the street. One hundred dollars worth of business walked away. Now this was not the waiters fault. His customer relations, his attitude towards his job and the service he provided were otherwise good. The trouble was the company policy and its culture of putting the business first.
Many are Reluctant
Although it is dangerous to see the world from inside the company out, many companies appear to be reluctant to see themselves as their customers see them. Sure, they do customer satisfaction surveys, but mostly they want numbers, not qualitative information. When they do get customer feedback through complaints, many become defensive and make excuses instead of notes. Even when they get the numbers, many do not take heed.
Is your business providing good customer service? Have you asked your front-line employees? Your customers?
What do Your Customers See?
It has long been believed that customer service is the cornerstone of commercial success. Customer service is important, of course, but there are two problems with this concept. First, most managers believe their business is doing a good job of providing customer service. If you are one of these, I have two questions for you. Have you asked your front-line employees what they think? Have you asked your customers?
The second problem is that to focus on customer service can be dangerous. When most companies think about customer service they think about what they do for the customer. But what you do does not really matter. What matters is what your customers need and what they think about what you do. Your performance is your customers reality but your reality is their perception of your performance. An establishment that I have worked with, conducted research and found that what matters most to their customers is that the wait staff knew what they were selling, they could tell their customers without going to the kitchen and asking the chefs. Does this happen in your establishment?
What do your customers see when they look at how you present your services to them? One of the first self-service grocery stores, learned the hard way that their view of the store and their customers view were quite different. They stocked their shelves by placing products in alphabetical order, believing it would make shopping easier for their customers. When business dropped off they started asking questions and found that their customers were not thrilled with the asparagus being next to the ant poison!
“Pay your employees to be customers” At our restaurant in New Zealand we used to pay our employees at a competitors and then report their findings.
They then return to work and present a short oral and written report to the rest of the employees. Each of our 38 employees visits a competitor restaurant every three months. The benefits have far outweighed the costs of operating the programme. One chef, for example, sampled excellent food served on cold plate. He was fussier about warming plates after that.
There are other benefits, too. Employee turnover was low and the restaurant is regularly booked out. It also received good reviews in the press. We learned that paying employees to be customers was good for our business.
GET THE CULTURE RIGHT
Your customer must come first, last and always. This belief must be held not just by management but by each employee. Is everyone in your business passionate about finding ways to create value for your customer? If you asked each employee these three questions, how would they answer.
1. Who do you work for?
2.Who is your boss?
3. Who pays your wages?
Getting everyone to put customers first is a leadership issue. In other words, it is up to you. Your employees must see that you believe in the philosophy:
If you, the customer, wins; then we win.
You must speak about it constantly. You must make policies and decisions consistent with this philosophy, and, of course, you must practice what you preach. If you talk “customers first” but act “profits first” you know which your employees will think you believe in most. Having mission and vision statements that put the customer first and which stress the customer’s primary position in the commercial transaction are important leadership tools.
Most companies, however, have very weak and self-serving vision and mission statements.
We will be number one in our industry.
Customers will choose us first.
We will become the preferred supplier.
We will have the largest market share.
How nice for these companies who clearly are putting themselves first and seeing the world from the inside out! Because business is the enterprise of creating value, your vision statement should talk about how you will create value for your customers.
You can convince everyone of the importance of the customer only if they see that all policies, procedures and decisions put the customer first. Review your existing policies and procedures to make sure they do. Also, do regular audits of major management decisions, to make sure they are consistent with your “customer first” philosophy. It is a good idea to involve some of your employees in these reviews, particularly front line employees who have constant customer contact.
If your culture is right, then everyone will understand that customers want solutions.