Has anyone besides me noticed a drastic decline in customer service over the last several years? Some of the signs are longer lines, more waiting times, more barriers to smoother transactions, and a general feeling that after my experience I wasn’t satisfied. These trends are all signs of the government bureaucracy encroaching on our free enterprise system. The vice of government was no more clear than the failure of the roll out of Obama Care where many of the population couldn’t even access the web sight because of government incompetency. Symptoms that are widespread also include employee burnout, excessive paper work, and less personal customer contact. All of these symptoms lead to increase cost of doing business and therefore business success. I've learned from LIFE Leadership that there are three critical C’s to insuring the success of a company in the twenty first century: Community, culture, and customer service. Lets look at some facts:
Here is the truth about the survival rate of new start up businesses in the U.S. economy from two unimpeachable sources, The Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation and the SBA. First from Kauffman:
"By 2011, just over 55 percent of firms in the sample that started in 2004 had permanently closed. The overall survival rate for the 2004 startups was 44.6 percent by the end of 2011, compared with 49.3 percent for yearend 2010, which is comparable to survival rates noted by the Small Business Administration and other government agencies."*
And now from the SBA:
What is the survival rate for new firms?
"Seven out of 10 new employer firms survive at least 2 years, half at least 5 years, a third at least 10 years, and a quarter stay in business 15 years or more.
"Census data report that 69 percent of new employer establishments born to new firms in 2000 survived at least 2 years, and 51 percent survived 5 or more years. Survival rates were similar across states and major industries.
"Bureau of Labor Statistics data on establishment age show that 49 percent of establishments survive 5 years or more; 34 percent survive 10 years or more; and 26 percent survive 15 years or more."**
After working with Orrin Woodward, one of the best leadership community builders in the world, I feel that the first step in building a successful company in the 21st century is a concept called “community”. In a nutshell, community means repeat business or consumer loyalty. In order to develop community a consumer must feel good about the experience or they will go elsewhere. That experience comes from the cost of the product and the service they experience as a customer. What reasons do the consumer have to want to come back? Naturally, the more government intervenes will effect the cost of the product and customer service, so to be successful means to develop strategies to cope with the encroaching bureaucracy.
To develop an experience where the consumer wants to return, a certain type of culture is critical to the success of a company. MIT’s Edward Schein, one of the world’s leading scholars on organizational culture wrote, “Culture is a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture has formed, people will autonomously do what they need to do to be successful.” A consumer gets familiar with the culture when they feel the price and service are predictable and done in a systematic way. People expect a smooth and satisfying experience. They want everyone to know their name. The consumer wants a central point of contact. The consumer wants efficiency and competency.
I recently brought one of my cars in for routine service. Before I came I called and gave a list of things a wanted and expected from my appointment. When I arrived, they had a record of my appointment but never called me by my name. In addition, I never got the service assistant’s name. I waited all day and never heard back from them as to the time to pick up my car so I finally called. Interestingly, they do not have a single point of contact. The phone is picked up at a central location where they direct the call to one of their many dealerships. The phone rings and rings and finally someone answers and puts me on hold. From there, someone picks up but doesn’t know who I am or what I want. I am placed on hold again and the phone rings and rings. After ten minutes of waiting I finally speak to my service advisor. How long did it take me to make contact with the right person? I found out that they had two numbers listed for me but called only my house phone that I never answer but never called the other number. I found out that besides the oil change none of the other services were done because they did not get my permissions to do the work (although I made the initial appointment to get the work done). In addition, the auto technician recommended that I get my air filter changed. I made another appointment to get the parts and service done. When I returned a week and a half later, I left the car again. Again, no one ever called to update me about the status of the car so I finally called to inquire. I found out that the parts were not in stock and they tried calling on my house phone even after I explained to use the other number. Again, I drove back and picked up the car and made another appointment. Now, a month later I am back again. After I picked up the car, I asked about the air filter since I did not see it on the list of services. They forgot to replace it.
In addition to community and culture, customer service is critical. Many of the best businesses take the time to train their employees about their culture. At McDonalds University, the new manager is trained for weeks about the system and culture. You are a step ahead of your competitors when you greet the consumer the same way every time. Does everyone greet you by name and with a smile? Do you look at the customer in the eye and develop a connection with a rapport? The single most important skill in customer service is the ability to listen. Everyone wants to be heard. Listening demonstrates caring. It’s important not to have just the point of contact be good listeners but the management from the top down needs to develop that skill. It’s everyone’s job. Find out what’s important to the consumer. I remember back in Physical Therapy it was important to palpate (poke) different parts of the tissue constantly asking the patient, “Does it hurt yet?” I had to be a good listener to find out what the patients needs were.
Remember that 95% (95) satisfied customer’s is not a good statistic. A satisfied customer will tell one other person so 95 people will hear of it. However, 5% (5) of dissatisfied customers will tell twenty other people or one hundred people will hear about the bad news. This effects your reputation and referrals. Remember that a culture is a unique combination of processes and priorities within an organization. The process achieves the results. To get the result, a process must be used efficiently and consistently. Cultural processes may include how long it takes to re initiate contact with the consumer? Are you visible? Do you accept responsibility for good service? In this day where community is the key, surprise the consumer by giving them a memorable experience, one they actually liked and want to have repeated. Surprise them with something they didn’t expect. Provide a service that gives people a reason to come back. God Bless, George Guzzardo