Do You Have Commitment Issues?

“You don’t call, you don’t write, I was just a one-night stand to you!”  Wow, harsh words I heard in a movie but very true when it comes to customers for many businesses.

I have often used the analogy of courting when it comes to the relationship of business to customer.  Think about it, what are you trying to accomplish in the customer relationship?  I think most businesses would like to get married rather than just a one-night stand.  However, like many a more pruriently minded person, so many businesses opt for the one-night stand and never make that next-morning call to begin building a longer term relationship.

What’s necessary to get to that pinnacle of “marriage” with your customers? Here are few things that come to mind:

  • Get to know them as people rather than objects of selfish motives
  • Show them that you really care about them
  • Consider what’s best for them first
  • Put your best foot forward by looking good and behaving at your best
  • Apologize when you disagree and share gestures of good will to make up
  • Communicate regularly and share things they need to know or that they might just find interesting
  • Give special gifts to show how much you appreciate them
  • Always do your best for them and try to make them happy

These are the things that lead to long-term relationships.  Yes, they require effort.  Yes, there are costs to some of them.  And yes, doing them takes time.  However, much like all great long-term relationships, there are rewards that make it all worth it.  In personal life, there comes contentment, love, and happiness; in business, it’s loyalty, advocacy, and financial success.

Ask yourself, is my organization building long-term relationships or are we just making one-night stands?  If your answers are more short-term, how can you make the change in thinking to a long-term relationship frame of mind?  What processes, procedures, and policies need to change for your organization to move toward longer lasting relationships with your customers?

As with any human relationships, trust, care, and yes, a little love are necessary to make them something that is worthwhile and strong.  Businesses can do this with customers if they make the jump from profit first to people first.  It’s surprising to me how many don’t make that jump and how many simply don’t see that a people-first motive ultimately gets more profits than the profit-first motive.  It’s high time businesses get rid of their commitment issues and start looking at getting “married” to their customers, and you can start the change today.  Take a look at your organization and really ask the question, “Are we demonstrating long-term relationship motives or are we just in it for the one-night stand?”  If the honest answer is the latter, get on the phone and make that next-morning call, begin the hard work of building a relationship that is meaningful and rewarding.

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A Gesture of Good Will

I recently went to a little pizza place with my family after a long day down at the Maryland/Delaware shore.  Our order was about as simple as it could be, one big cheese pizza.  Normally, I am one of those people who like to get a pie with everything but my son assured me the plain old cheese pizza was to die for.

Before getting any food, the server brought us all our drinks and some plates.  The plates were fresh from the dishwasher as they were warm and still a little wet.  When the plates were passed around, one of them was a bit stuck to the one on top of it and still had food stuck to it.  It was a little gross but I was once a dishwasher in a restaurant and know that sometimes plates get stuck to each other on the rack going through the machine.  It’s an honest mistake, no big deal.

We quickly asked the server to get us new plates as we decided to give the place another chance.  The pizza came and we happily chowed down.  During our meal, the manager of the place stopped over to apologize for the little dish mishap and to let us know he had knocked 20% off of our bill as a gesture of good will.  In my mind, it was more than enough for such a minor mistake.

Why I relay this is because this little mom and pop restaurant obviously gets it as far as doing the right thing in favor of customers.  When you make a mistake, apologize and offer something to make it right, a peace pipe as it were.

Many businesses should take a lesson from this.  The other day I was delayed for two hours in an airport and the airline did nothing other than an apology over the loudspeaker.  This apology was halfhearted at best and the inordinate length of the delay demanded much more as far as I was concerned.  How about a free drink coupon or a discount off of the next flight?  How much better would it have made things if they’d done something special to take the sting out of the discomfort of a long delay?  How many customers would they have appeased and taken one step closer to being more loyal?

Many years ago a friend of mine went to Disney World with his family.  He had rented a stroller for his then toddler daughter.  One evening they walked over to Epcot Center from their hotel and forgot the stroller.  As they entered the park, they realized this blunder and enquired as to how much a stroller would cost for the evening.  When they told the attendant that they had rented one for the week and stupidly forgotten it, the attendant told them to just take one for the evening at no charge and asked them what hotel and room they were in just in case they inadvertently took it back to their room and he needed to get it back.  This was a little lie so he could perform some “magic.”

When the evening was over, my friend and his family returned the stroller and went back to their room to find a huge fruit basket filled with fruit of course but also coupons for free drinks and ice creams good at all of the Disney parks.

What amazed me about this story was that Disney made this big gesture of good will as if they had made a mistake which.  Now, as you recall, they didn’t make a mistake, they did nothing wrong, it was the customer who was wrong.  Amazing!  Disney apologized and made amends for something they didn’t even do and it paid off in droves as my friend relays this story to this day (many years later mind you) and has inspired many to visit Disney to see their amazing service for themselves.  I am sure the small cost of a fruit basket and some freebie coupons has more than been paid back in the free marketing my friend has supplied.

What lesson can you take from this?  How do you make things right for your customers?  Do you apologize when you go wrong?  Do you make a gesture of good will?  How can you take it to a higher level and make goodwill gestures even when you’re not in the wrong?

I’m a heretic.

Are there things you hear from time to time that get your hackles up?  Well, I heard one of mine recently, “the purpose of business is to make money.”  All I can say to that is NO, the purpose of business is not to make money, the purpose of business is to help people.

What I usually hear when I say that is, “What?” as if I have pronounced some heretical statement that mocks God.  It’s as if I were nailing some business version of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to the door of the Harvard Business School.

If you wonder why I say this, think about it, why do you, when you’re a customer, seek out a business?  They either have knowledge you don’t have, skills you don’t have, or a thing (product) you need or want.  Down and dirty, you need their help.  Businesses are in the business of helping people first and foremost.  Making money is only an outcome of doing it, and if you do it well, you make more money than someone else who does it poorly.

Consider this quote from Peter Drucker, widely thought of as the father of modern management, “Profit is not the purpose of business, it is the test of its validity.”  What this says to me is that profit is your scorecard for how well you help customers.  It’s not the purpose; it’s the measurement of how well you did it.  A business’s purpose is to help people fill in the gaps of what they lack, and then get paid for it, not the other way round.

Why is this thinking such a big deal to me?  Because I think that changing the focus of your business from profit making to service excellence makes all the difference in employee motivation and engagement not to mention customer experience.  It may come as a surprise to some, but making money for the business is simply not as inspiring as impacting someone’s life through service.

Most business leaders are aware that one of the clear problems in business today is the fact that 70%-80% of employees are either disengaged or only marginally engaged in their work.  This is a challenge not only for employers but also for customers who get crappy service experiences.  By changing the dialog about your business’s purpose and making it clear that what you do is to help people get a new shirt, have a great meal, stay safe with new tires, or whatever it is you do, it will change the way your employees do the work and will change the experience your customers have.

How can you, as a leader, influence this change?  How can you make it clear in your business that money is a grade but service is the test, and the key question on the test is, “how well did you help the customer?”

What do you do for your customers?

There is a Geico Insurance commercial circulating where a man asks the Geico gecko if Geico has won any awards.  The gecko answers in his pseudo-Brit accent that they have indeed won an award for best insurance app.  While this is great for Geico to celebrate and to give kudos to their app developer, what does this mean to me as a customer?

In the spirit of transparency, I am not a Geico customer, but as a potential one or at least a person who could be in the market for insurance, I don’t care one whit about Geico’s app award.  I want to see awards that are centered on what they do for their customers.  Have they won any awards for customer satisfaction, for best response time or maybe even for fastest claim resolution?  If I were a person looking for an insurance provider, I would want to know what they do for their customers, what things do they do to make their customers’ lives easier, more enjoyable, or more successful?

So what about your business?  What do you do well for your customers?  Do you have a great app?  Well that’s all well and good, but more important is whether that great app actually does anything that makes your customers’ lives better.  This is really the important thing, making customers’ lives better, not awards and not cool ads, just what you do to make your customers’ lives better.  If you make that your objective, long-term reward is in your business’s future.

A Lesson Learned on the Tarmac.

On a recent flight on Southwest Airlines, my plane sat on the tarmac for a good 45 minutes while staff frantically looked for a couple of passengers.  Apparently, they had oversold the plane (a common practice on airlines that I don’t understand but maybe that’s for another post) and during the shuffle to get people sorted, they could not reconcile who got off and who was still on the plane.

As the situation got more and more frustrating and the temperature on the plane began to rise (the air conditioning on planes, for some reason I do not understand, only works when you are under way), we passengers started getting pretty restless and angry.  When the flight attendant finally relayed to us what was going on and how they had to manually reconcile the passenger manifest, passengers began making comments.  Thinking practically, I asked why we couldn’t simply do a roll call and wrap things up easily.  I got no answer, only a laugh and a smirk from the flight attendant.

Now, I am relaying this story not to trash Southwest as they are typically very good and customer oriented (although recently they seem to have slipped a bit), but to point out that sometimes alternative solutions, while maybe a little unorthodox, might actually get your customer on their way and should be seen as options.  The reason businesses are in business is to make their customers successful, and holding that up in order to follow a procedure when there is another possibility that would get them moving is flawed thinking to me.

Sometimes old school, analog solutions can and do work, and if that gets customers on their way and makes them successful, so be it.  In addition, customers sometimes have solutions and listening to them and using their solutions can not only get them on their way but further solidify the relationship.  You see, when that flight attendant dismissed my comment, she sowed a small seed of discontent in my relationship with Southwest Airlines.  Now maybe there are reasons of which I am unaware that made my suggestion impossible, but she could have relayed that instead of simply dismissing me.

Here’s the lesson, when a problem arises and the established procedure is holding up your customer, try other options, and listen to your customer, they may have that optional solution right in front of your nose.