Better to Turn Business Away Than Run It Off2003-10-01 email this article to a friend.
Retaining business is all about customer service and satisfaction. Inspired marketing campaigns and sales efforts may get that customer in your door, but one disappointing experience and they may never return.
Customers will quickly rate you on two basic factors: (1) fulfillment, and (2) human experience. Fulfillment answers the question, “Was I able to purchase the product or service I wanted, at good value, and to my complete satisfaction?” Human experience answers the question, “Did I deal with people who really cared about me, both as a customer and as a human being?”
Notice that in both cases, the answers we will get are determined very little by the cleverness of our advertising, the strength of our reputation, or the physical attractiveness of our business. These factors may be important in attracting potential new customers. But the factors that create for our businesses a loyal customer base are, I’m guessing, 70 to 90 percent employee related. How important is it to hire the right people? It is the single most important factor in the success of your business.
Now let me state it in the reverse. There is nothing that will run off business faster than for a customer to have a poor experience with one of your employees, either on the fulfillment side or the “human” end. Often, their rejection of your business is long term or even permanent. Competition is the constant reality of a market economy; unless you’re the government, your “customer” base can always go somewhere else. Give them a reason and they will.
If your mechanic isn’t very good, and the consumer must to bring their car back twice more to get it done right, chances are, next time they will try somewhere else. If their car is repaired satisfactorily but the employee who deals directly with the customer has a blasť` attitude, a gruff manner or a non-existent personality, the customer may remember that even longer than the poor work. Good human relations can, to a significant extent, trump an unsatisfactory experience with the product or service that was purchased. But the other side of the coin is equally true: you might provide excellent products or services, but if your employees don’t make customers feel honored and important, they will run them off, just as sure as if the product or service itself was substandard. It’s all about personnel.
In my judgment, the biggest personnel blunder that employers make in this town, is “hiring people to fill vacancies” whether they are truly qualified or not. Afraid that they are going to lose business, employers often hire in desperation, against their better judgment. Knowing that good employees are in scarce supply, they settle for less – and pay the price.
What is that price? In exchange for having to turn away business because you’re not fully staffed, you end up running off business because your employees can’t cut the mustard. The second scenario is far worse that the first. Consumers who are courteously told that they may need to come back another time to get proper and prompt service are impressed by the company’s candor and commitment to high standards. They will come back. Consumers who pay their money and have a miserable experience most likely will never come back – and they will probably share their bad experience with 10 or 20 others.
I have to say that some of the worst customer service experiences I have ever had were right here in Bozeman, usually with highly reputable companies that were known for quality products and service. Why? Because good companies hired the wrong people. Is training the answer? Only if you’ve hired correctly in the first place. Then customer service training can be a big benefit. But as my agency has come to understand better through our PDP assessments, people are who they are, and fundamentally do not change. If they lack the technical skills, those skills can sometimes be taught on the job. But if they lack the necessary personality and behavioral traits for a particular position, “hiring them anyway” will lead to disaster every time. Customers who are run off rarely return.
Recently, my wife Ann and I spent a couple of days in Kalispell. The experiences we had with two very fine restaurants were very different. We will return to the good experience many more times. We may not return to the “mixed” experience restaurant at all. The food was first rate in both cases, but the interaction with their employees made the telling difference.
Coming back from Glacier Park, we dropped in on “Restaurant A” (a well-known establishment featuring Italian cuisine.) Even at 8:15 in the evening, they were incredibly busy, and we were told by a friendly, bright-eyed, well-dressed hostess that there would be a 20-minute wait. We waited, and were seated in less time than indicated. From the moment we walked through their door to the time we left, every human experience was a positive one. As we walked out, even the bartender called out from the other room, “Good night. Thank you for coming!” During our meals, I remarked to Ann, “there’s something very different about this place. Everybody here is happy and enjoys their work.” That’s an employer who knows how to hire, and we will return there many, many times.
We arrived at Restaurant B, a rustic coffee shop know for their wholesome, homemade cooking, at ten to nine Saturday morning. Although the door was open, we were informed rather curtly by the employee at the counter that they don’t open until 9:00, and that we needed to come back later. So we sat in the car for ten minutes. I got bored and checked the oil, managing as I usually do, to get motor oil sludge all over my hands. I watched while another group of people received the same treatment. They stood around their car in the mall parking lot, shivering in the morning air. Eventually we were allowed in, and had excellent meals. But next time, I’m not so sure that we’ll come back. We may try somewhere new.
Think of the difference if this employee had said something like “Good morning, folks! You’re a little early, but please sit down and get out of the cold. Here’s today’s newspaper. The coffee’s brewing and we’ll take your orders just as soon as we can!”
Building loyal customers might sometimes mean apologizing for a long wait, or even sending them away when you’re shorthanded. But if you lower your standards by hiring the wrong people, you may lose that customer for life. Take the time to hire right!