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No customer service

What's a customer to do?

What could be more fun than asking your customers what you’re doing wrong? Probably a million things.

It isn’t that much fun and that’s probably why most businesses don’t ask their customers what they think. If you have the guts and can listen you will learn amazing things about how your company is “perceived.” In fact you’ll  probably be able to create you company’s focus for the next 5 years.

Building and keeping a business is hard work; it’s not so hard if you pay attention to your customers.  You must  be able to  to stay close to your customers, seek their opinions, and be  courageous enough to change based on what they think.  

 This is the epitome of customer service.

Although companies should last for centuries few do, GE is one of those that has managed to survive. How have they done it? According to Jack Welch, by listening to their customers and changing. 

What should a business listen for? What would make them different   and how to use this differentiation to  build a  competitive advantage.

The bottom line, live  and breathe with your customers. Find out  and what turns them on and what turns them off.

I heard last week that Wal-Mart recently finished a survey with their customers. According to a recent survey by Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) analysts, 60% of consumers no longer think that prices at Walmart (NYSE:WMT) stores are lower than the competition. An amazing piece of information for a company who has built their brand on “everyday low prices.” As they say, “I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall” when that data was presented.

What do you do you do when your customer  “rocks”  the very core of your brand? You could ignore the data and chalk it up to a bunch of grouchy customers or you can begin rebuilding your company and choose a new course of action.

I have been doing studies like this for years. I find it very exciting and energizing; I feel like I’m helping  good customers become even better. My experience leads me to believe that only good businesses  conduct these studies; the rest don’t care so why bother to spend the money if you’re not going to change? 

Who should do your study? An outsider who understands your industry and can turn close lipped customers into “Chatty Cathys.”  The person should  design the questions to  make the interviewee comfortable  and then lead them to more uncomfortable questions.  The ideas is to search for a point of differentiation and use it to  build a competitive advantage. Bottom line,  to get a leg up on the competition. A study of about 50-100 customers will get you plenty of data.

Not sure if you want to invest? Start with a study of 5 customers and see what they have to say.I have never seen a disappointed business owner even with a study of only 5.

As an interviewer I’m always amazed at how much information the customer will share with a perfect stranger.

I think it goes back to customers  wanting to be heard and understood.  Isn’t this  the basis of customer service? Jack Welch talks about differentiation and how companies will live or die based on their differention and ability to compete on a world-wide level.

Today I had an interesting experience with AT&T about my cell phone coverage at my camp. Or should I say my lack of cell coverage? Prior to my visit I was investigating “things on line” to increase mycell coverage; investing in a land line or getting a Magic Jack. Bottom line, I didn’t like any of them or couldn’t find anyone to substantiate the alternatives other than a land line. I also thought about throwing my phone into the lake and getting another cell carrier.

I told my story to the woman at AT&T and she told me at AT&T I could purchase a micro cell!

“What are you talking about?” I asked.  For about $200.00 I can make a one time purchase, have my own micro cell and take it with me. How many of you have complained about coverage and been told you can purchase a micro cell? I’m a cronic complainer but have never been given this alternative. I asked the salesperson why they don’t advertise this solution and she said, “I don’t know why–we tell them that customers are always complaining about  “dead” areas. A lost opportunity for differentiation/competitive advantage and a really happy customer. Not listening to the customer? Maybe listening but not hearing.

With globalization and more competition,  listening to your customer is even more important. Listen through surveys at the end of the sale and listen through  a third party.

Ikea, the world’s largest furniture store has been listening to its customers. Thirty years ago, Kamprad set out the philosophy: ‘We have decided once and for all to side with the many. What is good for our customers is also, in the long run, good for us. He wanted to “create a better everyday life for the majority of people.”

Maybe more companies should adopt this philosophy. Why don’t they? It can be scary and it takes guts to change. 

Lisbeth Calandrino is an award winning author, trainer and blogger. She is  author of the book, Red Hot Customer Service, 35 ways to heat up your business and ignite your sales. Lisbeth can provide speaking or customer service/ sales training using the principles of her book at your place of business or through video conferences.

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