Mike Miazga 2013-10-12 06:29:46
Have an A1 day The headline of this column pays homage to the AMC hit series “Breaking Bad.” By the time you read this, the show will have concluded its five-season run as one of the most critically acclaimed dramas in recent television history. A1 refers to the name of the car wash the main character used to launder millions of ill-gotten dollars. “Have an A1 day” is the salutation those running the cash register used after customers purchased car washes — a nice added service touch even though the business was a front to stash drug money. I’m a stickler for good customer service. My wife says I sometimes take things too far on that front. I disagree. I’ve valued a hard-earned dollar ever since my dad taught me the concept by putting my allowance in one of his old watch boxes (complete with red velvet interior) and adding a mini notepad and pen so I could keep track of my earnings and expenditures. If I’m paying for goods and services, I expect a high level of customer service in return whether it’s at a hotel, a grocery store or the post office. At a recent industry event, the hotel I was staying at didn’t start serving breakfast until after I had to leave for the airport. No problem. The lady at the front desk had a to-go bag of breakfast food waiting for me at 5:30 a.m. (free of charge). That’s excellent customer service. Guess where I’ll try to stay when I go back to that city? A familiar refrain I hear in our industry is how superior customer service is the key differentiator in taking a business to the next level. Check out my story on 2013 Supply House Times’ Supply House of the Year, Southern Pipe & Supply for a textbook case of commitment to customers (see page 18). Southern Pipe Purchasing Manager William Jolly summed it up best. “Everybody can buy and sell the same things we can,” he said to me in the company’s Meridian, Miss., conference room. “It comes down to serving people. It’s not easy, but not real complicated. I can vacuum the carpet and make it look nice, but it doesn’t take long to notice if you aren’t doing the right things.” Customer service certainly was top of mind at the recent WIT Fall Networking Meeting I attended in Charleston, S.C. Once again, the WIT folks knocked it out of the park with a great lineup of guest speakers. Both keynote presenter Scott Deming and Kohler Senior Showrooms Trainer David Doyle centered their talks on customer service. Deming, a former ad agency owner, said focusing on customer relationships will create loyalty and take price out of the equation. “You are in the people business,” he told the large gathering at Charleston Place hotel. “If you are too focused on price and product, people become secondary.” At the same time, Deming stressed creating the ultimate customer experience (the title of his presentation) involves a focus on branding. He used Starbucks as a prime example of a company that has enjoyed cult-like brand success. “The most understated and misused topic in the corporate world is branding,” he said. “Starbucks’ coffee merely gets them in the game. It’s the brand that keeps people coming back. People will pay a premium price for a premium experience. Make the experience premium and that’s when people feel you are indispensable. We live in a sea of sameness. Get different. Brands are forever if done the right way.” Doyle’s presentation focused more on the luxury showroom aspect of service, but his message was identical. “What do customers expect?” he asked the afternoon crowd. “They want to have an exciting and impactful and memorable experience. They know there is more than one place to buy from. They want the best experience for their money. Price is not always the issue. Will people spend money for good service? The answer is absolutely.” Deming and Doyle offered a treasure trove of immediately usable tips on the topic. Doyle said something as simple as applying an 80-20 ratio of listening to talking with a customer can do wonders. Video interviews with both gentlemen from the WIT meeting are available at www.supplyht.com/video. I encourage you to check them out. How does your company’s customer service rank? Assessing its effectiveness and adjusting accordingly in current-day competitive times can make all the difference in the world.
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