Friday, May 23, 2008

The Customer Is Always Right

"Sign" courtesy of Thadz

It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages. Henry Ford

A merchant who approaches business with the idea of serving the public well has nothing to fear from the competition. James Cash Penney

I’m sure that you have heard that “the customer is always right”, I have tended to look at things more along the lines of “the customer is not always right, but the customer is always the customer”. I don’t wish to take credit for that quote but I don’t remember where I first heard it from. People often have crazy requests, thoughts, beliefs, and demands; certainly it is not always a good idea to honor everyone of these things, but by taking them into proper consideration you just might be surprised by multiplier effect. Your customers will value your services more, possibly giving your more business directly or indirectly through word of mouth advertising that you can not buy. Customer service is just good business and should be a way of life for all of us. Much or our frustration in the course of our days come from the customer service that we receive or don’t receive.

It is the service we are not obliged to give that people value most.

James Cash Penney

America has long had an image in the world of providing excellent customer service. I have a somewhat unique position of being an American living abroad, so I can often see things from the outside looking in. A couple of years ago, when the family and I were in the U.S., my wife remarked that the customer service mentality seemed to be gone or had gone down hill, from her previous exposures to it. I’m constantly amazed by the way businesses treat their customers or let their employees treat them, while this might not be the same thing, this is how people view your business, and it manifests itself into the customer’s view of your business and becomes their reality. You can be sure that dissatisfied customers will often abandon ship at the first chance they can or if they have no other chance to do so, will only buy the bare minimum. Without service there are only products and there are a lot of products sitting on shelves waiting to be picked up.

A store's best advertisement is the service its goods render, for upon such service rest the future, the good-will, of an organization. James Cash Penney

Without customers you wouldn’t have a paycheck. As stated in the Henry Ford quote above, employers only handle the money. Even if you work for the government, you do have customers, you just might not think of it that way. If your customers don’t feel that their patronage is valued or they feel mistreated, eventually, you’re likely to lose some or all of them. If you lose all of your customers, then your business won’t be able to sustain operations and profitability (note that government services and monopolistic companies don’t necessarily follow this pattern but they still need to worry about satisfied customers because there or other outcomes that could be just as unpleasant, if not worse, for them) and will eventually have to shut your doors. We all have our jobs or functions to do, but it is because there is a customer that we are able to do these things.

A customer service attitude should be adopted; it should be at the center of all we do. Think of how much better the world would be if more people developed this developed and lived this attitude. Darryl Heron

Unless you’re a hermit or a recluse, you have many customers in your daily life, you just don’t realize it. If you work for a company of almost any size; you have bosses, co-workers, other departments, and clients that make requests of you. They are, in fact, all your customers. How often have you asked a colleague to do something for you, something that might have even truly have been part of their normal job responsibilities, and they treated you like you were an annoyance. Maybe, you have even been the one looking at your colleagues as an annoyance. The bigger the company, the harder it is to really maintain a true team spirit that is so often “pushed” by management. In a lot of companies there are OLAs (operational level agreements) between departments that describe service levels and so on, this is especially true if they’re more mature in doing Service Management (a foundation in I.T.I.L.), but this doesn’t really regulate the relationships between co-workers. Treating your colleagues as valued customers, showing them courtesy and working with them, can only help move your company in a positive direction. By showing respect and courtesy to your co-workers, they’re more likely to do the favors that you ask of them, this is especially true if you aren’t in their reporting line.

Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement. James Cash Penney

In an era where everybody is always trying to be the cheapest, customer service can differentiate your product or service from your competitors. It is hard to always beat the competition in price and if your product becomes a commodity in the minds of your potential customers, they will surely buy the cheapest product unless they’re convinced that there is real value in your product. Aside from quality that stands out from your competitors, customer service is one of the biggest things that can add value to your product in your potential customers’ minds. As long as there is still the possibility to readily move production and service to off shore locations where the labor markets are perceived to be lower cost, then it is harder and harder for your product to win the cheapest category within your field of competition. Furthermore, the higher the profit margins in your field, the more competitors will be drawn in, further pushing the “cheaper” envelope.

The Golden Rule finds no limit of application in business. James Cash Penney

Providing excellent customer service can help you to build your product or service into a brand that people know, trust, and buy. Many companies spend a lot of money on advertising, marketing, and trying to build “brand” awareness and image, but if the customer service isn’t there, most of this effort is wasted. It is far cheaper to maintain customers than to reach new ones, so if someone is already using your product or service and are happy with it, they’re more likely to continue. If they are enthusiastic about your product or service, they’re likely to “sell” your product through countless endorsements to family, friends, co-workers, and people they meet on the street. You just can’t buy that kind of advertising and promotion. Your satisfied customers are more likely to try out your new products or services, and are often good candidates for add-on business, without the need for as much advertising and promotion. Good customer service can even promote new products and services. Happy and satisfied customers can be used in advertising and marketing campaigns and they’re more likely to come off more genuine than some high paid celebrity that is only “paid” to be a spokesperson.

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own. Henry Ford

Remember that customer service doesn’t end with a sale or contract signing. Many products break, there are problems or questions in their operation and use, customers would like the opportunity to provide feedback on the product or service, or any number of other things can happen after the point that the customer has bought the product or service. It is in providing this outlet that many companies fall down. Calling your company’s hotline and looking at things from a customer standpoint can be an eye-opening experience! If your hotline is staffed by a call center, this might be become the image of your company in the eyes of many of your customers and potential customers, so this needs to be a pleasant experience. Sadly, more often than not, it isn’t. Between confusing voice menus and agents that don’t know how to interact with real people, don’t speak clearly, and don’t care about the customer, you might be driving your customers to your competition. Don’t neglect servicing your products, regardless of if your products are serviced by your company, franchised locations, or dealerships; bad experiences here can drive your customers away and you might not even know it is happening.

There are probably a million (or billion) reasons why you should provide good customer service. Certainly, if you can become excited about your job and show interest in your customers, it won’t hurt your company’s bottom line and you just might find after a while that you enjoy the relationships that you build with some of your customers, they might even become your friends. Do you have any positive or negative stories that you want to share about service that you have received? Do you have any tips to those responsible for providing customer service? If you have any other comments, I’d love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

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