April 6, 2005 in Business

Customer satisfaction is priceless

Tim McGuire The Spokesman-Review
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Here’s the new customer service trick. When you pay your bill the clerk gives you a faux customer service survey similar to one she says you will get in the mail. The facsimile instructs you that the company will only be happy if you check the completely satisfied box. I was miffed, but I think many people will walk away feeling slightly intimidated, and just as frustrated, because the company makes no apparent effort to make sure you actually are completely satisfied.

Several months ago when I first encountered the tactic I politely informed the service representative that I could not check completely satisfied, because I wasn’t. I’d been given the bum’s rush, and I made that clear. The representative shrugged. No effort was made to fix my problem. Then again, I never got the form in the mail either.

“Customer focused” is not a slogan. “Customer focused” does not come when a company tells you to mark a survey completely satisfied. “Customer focused” is engendering such loyalty that customers feel guilty if they don’t use your product.

A friend of mine from Michigan told me recently about his tailor. The tailor’s shop is 70 miles from my friend’s home, but every time he even glances at a suit or dress shirt in another store, he feels guilty. “This guy has treated me so well and makes me feel so important that I just can’t stand the thought of not buying my clothes from him.” That is customer loyalty.

I have said before I feel the same way about a dry cleaner in the Phoenix area. My needs are more important than their plant schedules or difficulties. They treat all their customers the same — as if they are the only customer that matters.

That’s the essence of dealing with customers, and employees for that matter: treat them all as if they are the most important people in the world. Don’t think of customers as a mass. They are individuals with emotions, pressures and specific needs

Jeffrey Gitomer, the author of the book “Customer Service is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” says we have to GET REAL if we are going to engender customer loyalty. He says company executives and employees get real when, among other things, they put themselves in customer’s shoes; remember how they reacted when they got lousy service; recognize the person they are dealing with is another human being; understand that the person they are helping may be in a position to help them one day.

The emphasis on making people something more than caricatures is crucial. Many tend to lump customers into an ugly bag of generalities. In his book “Authentic Leadership” (Jossey-Bass, 2003), former Medtronic CEO Bill George wrote that Medtronic attempted to build a genuine connection between customers and employees by telling stories about people whose lives were saved and enhanced by Medtronic products. Imagine working on R&D and visioning a young child whose life you’ve saved. That has to make a huge difference.

Connecting with customers or audiences is problematic for companies of all sorts. For too many companies, customers become market share, ratings points and audience segments. We try to neatly categorize people rather than serving their needs.

Personalizing our audience and appreciating them as flesh-and-blood people rather than as numbers or as a “painful consequence of doing business,” can help us truly connect with customers. And it can make our jobs more exciting and fulfilling too.

Forging a bond with customers to excite them about doing business with you comes from aggressive action and from exceeding customer expectations. It also comes when the customer develops affection for your service without prodding. Telling customers how to feel or how to fill out a survey is not an effective way to engender loyalty.

Tip for your search: Employ some “get real” thinking in your workplace. Are your policies and systems designed to make things easy for customers or are they simply designed to make your life easier? Do you enjoy doing business with your own company? If you use your company’s telephone system or online ordering systems from the outside just as your customers would, do you feel fulfilled?

Resource for your search: “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless” by Jeffrey Gitomer (Bard Press 1998)

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