I recently engaged two individuals for the services they render. One is a dressmaker and another a carpenter.
Given that their skills are necessary, important and that the work of their hands also improve one’s image, these two skills are significantly sought through referral. So the referrals came in quite strongly given that the referees were well acquainted with the two individuals.
At the briefing for the tailor, the spouse was present and had clearly showed support and respect for the work done previously for other clients. It was a pleasant briefing and I believed that we had made contact with a good dressmaker. My job was well done and I had every intention to give a second and third and fourth and so on job; but I ran out of currency.
Shortly after, in one of my companies, there arose a need for making a certain simple outfit in bulk. So I introduced the person in charge of the project to the dressmaker and the agreement was made to make the outfits. A third (⅓) of the total was paid as deposit, and the balance was to be paid on delivery. This was after the dressmaker confirmed that the outfit was part of her portfolio and would thus be done to perfection and in time for the occasion in which they were to be used.
Time was observed and quality compromised; but to compensate the dressmaker agreed to rectify the outfits after the occasion and accepted only half (½) of the remaining fee. It took another eight months after the occasion before the outfits were delivered and even then it was after many unreturned calls, embarrassment through claims that my company had refused to pay the whole amount (which we paid even without the goods being delivered) and excuses that contradicted each other with every new month.
While still waiting for the outfits to be delivered, I had set aside some cash to refurbish my 7 seater sofa with new fabric. The referee for the carpenter gave a very high rating and showed solid confidence in his work. Infact, he indicated that they young man had been short on work and kept asking if there is any referral he can get. So on my end was a need and on the other end was a hungry craftsman ready to do the job.
So he turned up almost immediately and gave a quotation for the job and I told him to allow me three days then we would start the job. On the second day he sent me a reminder and I thought, “Hmm. How nice and customer oriented.” So on the third day I called him to collect the deposit which would be instrumental in getting the upholstery and set him off for the job, He did warn me that due to price changes, he could possibly ask for more but that he would tell me well in advance. So off he went with a wad of cash and informed me he would be back in the morning with the materials. It was another two days before he started the job and when he was halfway through, he informed me that the cutting and stitching was done badly and I should add him money to go and correct it. He tried to hide that some of the cushions had been damaged in transit and he had planned to put them on the sofa without my knowledge.
A job that had been guaranteed to take 3 days actually took 7 days and even then it was disappointing because I did not get what I had asked for.
With these two incidents I began to wonder how it is that: one, small entrepreneurs seek to be given jobs that they do not have the capacity to handle; and two how they manage to get by in with lousy customer service and orientation.
Truth be told, I was satisfied that both jobs were finished not to the quality I would have wanted but at least my money did not disappear. Bottomline, I did get services for my money. Question is if I would give reference to the two craftsmen to a friend or business partner or even want to engage them again.
In this entrepreneurial generation, the grandest failure emanates not from the product or service, but from the customer orientation of those delivering the service or selling the product. Majority of the business people are more interested in securing the deal that has a lot of money and they are willing to cut as many corners as possible to retain maximum profit and not necessarily deliver on their word.
As an entrepreneur, there is need to always remember that without process, your business can get by, without large overheads and a large team, yes it can still stay afloat, but without customers, you cannot start, sustain or grow. Customers are the core of any business in the market place. Great businesses have loyal customers, mediocre businesses have satisfied customers, malnutritioned businesses have customers!
So what kind of diet should you be on to move from malnutritioned to great business?
Hold your name above everything else. Mention the word ‘apple’ and you are likely to get one of two responses; “the expensive fruit” or “the expensive gadgets”. Just reading through a lot of material, I have gathered overtime that Apple (the company) revenues and profits thrive through their loyal customers. Once you go apple, there is no turning back and their clientele know that and they are willing to pay the price. I am yet to meet an iPhone, iPad, MacBook or Macintosh desktop user who has something against the brand. Your name as a business is your face. It is what existing customers remember every time, it is what potential customers see for the first time and it is what you are every day. It is imperative that it is good of you are going to grow your client base and ultimately your revenue base.
Maintain a hard-to-leave customer retention policy. The difference between a policy and a program is that a program implies a timed lifespan, it will come to an end. Policy on the other hand suggests that it is part of the core for the existence of the business. Loyal customers do not stay because they have no other option. They stay because you are the best and they would rather be inconvenienced in other areas but have you serve them in that one area. Loyalty is not forced. It is willfully pledged. The place I have seen this exemplified best is in barbershops. Most men are very particular how they are shaved and once they find a barber who applies the razor the way they like, even if they go on a Saturday afternoon and found a queue of 100 , they will be glad to wait or go home and come back the next day just to be shaved by that barber. Now that is loyalty because the service rendered cannot be got elsewhere.
Have a working feedback system. This is a system that allows you to effectively receive feedback from the clients, follow up on resolution/ actions taken from your end and resolving the issue with the customer. The system should also enable you have frequent communication with your customer e.g. reminding them it is time for an upgrade, or cleaning, or change etc.
Don’t promise. Don’t compromise. Commit and Over Deliver. If you commit to do a certain job, chances are that the customer expects at minimum, his expectations to be met. I give you my car to wash, I expect a clean car. Picking a job that you do not have the capacity for simply points to greed and selfishness. You can’t promise a clean car in one hour if you only have one sprayer and one member of staff and 30 cars waiting in queue to be washed. It is a sad day when a customer says you didn’t do the job I wanted and the first words that come out of your mouth are “But you are the one who …..” In essence that statement can be interpreted to say, “If you had not brought me your business in the first place, I would not have failed.” It’s shooting yourself in the foot when you begin to blame the customer for what was in your control.
Establish the parameters of engagement. It is true that in this competitive market environment, customers just want delivery of service and if they can’t get it from you they will get it from elsewhere. It is also true that every human being has an affinity for the finer things in life including how they are treated when they are the ones receiving the service or buying the product. If your intention is to give all your clients a high level quality service then it is important for them to know how you will achieve this goal and what is expected of them. When you surpass these parameters, the customers will not even need to be told. They will know it directly.
Special Note: Customer service changes with every generation and businesses must evolve with the customer.