Customer Supremacy 

If you Google “the purpose of a business” you’ll find many statements about what a business is supposed to be about. One example says the primary purpose of a business is to “maximize profits for its owners or stakeholders while maintaining corporate social responsibility.”

I kind of like that one, I don’t disagree with any of it but there is a huge hole in that statement. 

The great business guru, Peter Drucker, fills that hole with his statement that “the purpose of a business is to create a customer.” I wholeheartedly agree with that but it’s an over simplification. Placing your sole focus on creating customers is not a sustainable business model, especially these days. 

If I were to answer the question, “what is the purpose of a business?” I’d say it is to create customers and nurture a sustainable and profitable relationship with those customers over a very long period of time. All this while adding real value to the communities where your business is conducted, be it in your neighborhood or around the world. 

There is a lot to that statement. The customer for instance is the final arbiter of whether or not the relationship is “profitable” for them. They determine whether or not the products or services they receive in return for what they have spent is of value. Ultimately the customer is the only one who gets a vote in this. 

Similarly, it is the communities where the business is conducted that get to decide whether or not the business is adding value to ALL members of the community. Even the members who may not be customers of that business. 

Customers are the center of every business. Every business. Up until very recently I would have thought this was common knowledge. But as is often the case I was wrong. 

In a recent conversation with a business person, a person very high up in their organization, it was explained to me that it’s possible for a business to “mature” to the point where they no longer need customers. In fact, they may be better off without them. 

I’m seldom at a loss for words but I was completely flummoxed by this statement. Rather than respond immediately I remained silent while I tried to digest what I just heard. I figured there must be something I missed, or I was misunderstanding what was said. 

Instead of replying I kept in mind one of Dale Carnegie’s principles that says “the only way to get the best of an argument is to void it.” I said I must have missed something and I asked for clarification. 

The statement was repeated almost exactly as it was said the first time. 

This is from a person positioned high enough within their organization to affect every decision where a customer is concerned. I’m not at all certain that they realize that the profits their company uses to stay in business come ONLY from the customers they claim not to need. Anybody else see a problem with that?

If you’re ever tempted to adopt the same philosophy you need to keep this most indisputable and basic fact in mind. When you lose your customers your business ceases to exist.

Let me repeat that…when you lose your customers your business ceases to exist. 

It doesn’t matter if your business is new, old, or as this person says, “mature,” without customers you have no business. 

Companies that lose sight of the supremacy of the customer will eventually lose those customers. No business can afford the mindset of “win some lose some” when it comes to customers. Every lost customer must be understood to be a significant failure on the part of the business. Every effort must be made to understand why that customer left and what can be done to prevent it from happening with another customer . 

The focus these days seems to be on CX Hubs, and something called “Customer Experiences” and a ton of other buzzwords going around. All of them seem intent on providing more cost effective customer service. All of them also seem to ignore the absolute supremacy of the customer when it comes to even keeping the business open. 

I’ll close this with another rather simplistic statement regarding customers…but one that happens to be true. “Businesses that take care of their customers will always have customers who care to do business with them.”

Never never never lose sight of that fact and your business will be around a long long time. 

On a another subject…I’m trying something new over on Twitter. It’s called “Super Followers.” For $5 a month, that’s 17 cents a day, people can follow a part of my Twitter stream that is for subscribers only. It features short videos of me discussing leadership topics, sales tips and ideas for better overall relationships. I’m assuming there will be far fewer Super Followers than regular Twitter followers. That will give me the opportunity to answer questions more throughly than I can on regular Twitter. Most of the answers will come in the evening cause we all have day jobs, right? Think of it as ”mentoring on demand!”

My goal with SuperFollowers is to build a better connection, one where I can perhaps help more and have a greater impact. I’m hoping it gives me a chance to mentor to a wider audience. It’s still new, we’ll see how it works. It’s a $5 dollar investment that may just be the extra “push” you need to get to where you want to be. I’d be honored to be able to help get you there. 

You can find more information by clicking the Super Follow button on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP. http://twitter.com/leadtoday Give it a try if you’re so inclined, and if you are, be sure to let me know how I’m doing and how I can be of even more help.

A Culture of Customer Service

Over the years I’ve done a bunch of Customer Service Training. I don’t do much anymore because the “new” methods for providing customer service seem to have more to do with profitability and less to do with service. 

I realize this is crazily old school thinking but I still believe the surest way to profitability is to provide your customers with outstanding service. It’s not a one or the other kinda thing. It’s more than a little disappointing how many people and companies disagree with me. 

Today Customer Service “experts” talk about CX Hubs, creating customer experiences, deflecting customers from expensive technical help by shifting them over to a bot or some chat thing. 

There’s actually some research that shows the Gen Z demographic would prefer to not speak with a human when accessing customer support. But not all of them and even if it were their purchasing power does not yet match that of Millennials, Gen X and Boomers. 

Most people want to talk to someone who gives a damn about helping them. 

But sadly there’s a lot more money to be made by talking about creating customer experiences and CX than there is to be made by teaching the basic skills needed to truly help a customer and make them feel valued. 

My biggest problem with most Customer Service training is that the best customer service doesn’t come from a series of actions, responses, or policies. It comes from creating a culture of caring for customers. Not only from the Customer Service Department but from every department. When I call a company for help I don’t care what department the person who answers the phone works in. I expect everyone working there to give a damn about me and every single customer. 

There are no “tricks” to helping customers. There is just help. That help doesn’t come from a policy, it comes from a deeply held conviction that helping customers is the right thing to do. It’s always always always the right thing to do. 

A culture of caring for customers can only be “taught” by modeling it. It must be coached and demonstrated on a daily basis. 

If Customer Service isn’t everyone’s responsibility then sooner or later your customer will get the feeling that it’s nobody’s responsibility. If your organization treats Customer Service as an expense rather than an investment your customers will quickly pick up on that mindset too.

Customers by and large are good people. They don’t want to be a bother so when they feel as if they are bothering you they will stop…stop bothering and stop buying. 

How does your business treat customers…like an expense or an investment? Think about that.

Taking Care of Business

Every business promises to take care of their customers. Many have departments they call Customer Care. The new “thing” in customer service is called CX which short for the Customer Experience. Companies are investing small fortunes with consultants. All to improve the experience for their customers. 

They do this in an attempt to take care of business. 

But for many of those companies, way way too many, they have put the cart before the horse. 

I fully support anything that improves the customer experience. I’m all in on anything that gives the customer a reason to continue doing business with a company. It’s just that every business is in the people business, no matter the product or service they sell. 

Companies can invest literally millions of dollars trying to improve their customer’s experience. They spend on systems, programs and technology. But if they refuse to invest one dollar on improving the working experience of their employees the customer will never be happy. 

I recall a whole bunch of years ago when the pilots union at one of the major airlines in the US went on strike. It was a pretty contentious strike right from the beginning. Both the company and the pilots union took out ads in the newspapers saying that the other side were basically morons. I still don’t understand the airline’s strategy of telling their customers that the people who were flying them across the country were morons. But that’s another story. 

Part way through the strike one of the pilots was on a local talk radio show discussing the strike. He said something that has stuck with me to this day. He said the crux of the problem at the airline was that they were trying to satisfy customers with dissatisfied employees. 

The employees, throughout the airline, were disgruntled and disengaged. They believed they were taken for granted and disrespected. They passed those feelings on to the customers. 

The “cart” that many companies put before the horse is investing in customer service programs before they invest in the people responsible for implementing the programs. They are trying to make satisfied customers when their employees could be dissatisfied. That is unlikely to work. 

Most companies today know that regardless of what they sell they are in the people business. What they don’t seem to realize is that the employees of the company are people too. While the popular thinking says “the customer comes first” the reality is that unless employees know they matter the customer doesn’t come at all. 

Companies that attempt to take care of business before they take care of their people are making a mistake, often a very costly one. 

The most successful and profitable companies know that it’s their people who create satisfied and loyal customers. Programs, technology and systems do not. What they can do is help the people in the organization better serve customers. But if the people who are employed by the company do not feel valued it’s unlikely they will add much value to the customer. 

That’s why companies that last invest as much in their people as they do their products and customers. 

Does your organization have the cart before the horse? If so a change of focus is in order. Focus on your people first so they will enthusiastically focus on your customers. 

Customer Deflections

Companies spend tons of money to attract customers. They invest a small fortune to train their salespeople to professionally represent their products. (At least the good ones do) They hire people to provide service to those customers after the salespeople earn their business. 

The best salespeople “sell” that customer service as a benefit of doing business with their company. 

Those things have always been pretty much standard business practice. Finding new customers and earning their repeat business has always been considered a good investment for a company.

But today some companies are developing something like a split personality. While they continue to invest in attracting new customers they are beginning to see retaining those customers as an expense. 

As we all know well run companies look for new ways to reduce expenses at every opportunity. That’s not the problem…the problem is seeing customer service as one of those expenses to be cut.

Some companies are investing in research to determine an acceptable level of customer intolerance. That means they are trying to figure out just how crummy their customer service can be without losing their customers. Providing a higher level of customer service than the company absolutely has to is considered waste. 

Those same companies send their people to training but not to learn how to better serve their customers. The training is on how to “deflect” customers away from the customer service department. “Progressive” customer service departments “deflect” customers to ChatBots or websites. Sometimes even into an endless loop of holds and transfers. 

This might be upsetting to the customer but just so long as the customer’s intolerance level isn’t exceeded all is well. The customer might not agree. They likely believe they deserve better. 

Some service organizations are actually showing reports with the number of customers they “successfully” deflect each month. I pity the poor salesperson who works their tail off only to have their customers “deflected” to some ChatBot. 

Can you tell I’m a little irritated with this new way of thinking? One thing I can say with a very high degree of confidence is that this will never become an old way of thinking. That’s because companies who adopt it won’t be around for long. 

The consultant who “sold” these companies on the word “deflect” should be embarrassed. 

The word should be banned in any conversation that involves a customer.

Words matter. When a customer care manager tells their team they are trying to deflect customers the signal it sends is completely wrong. It negatively affects even the calls that are accepted. The calls tend to be shorter, more abrupt and less helpful. The goal becomes to get the customer off the phone as soon as possible.

Here’s a couple of questions for companies who have adopted this “deflection” strategy. Do you think your customers would like knowing they are being deflected? Are you willing to show your customers the charts and graphs about how many of them you “successfully” deflected?

Remember if you have to hide information from your customers then you may have an ethics problem. 

Companies that invest in technology to help them deflect customers see it as improving their bottom line. I look at it as decreasing their integrity. That’s because their salespeople are still trying to sell excellent customer service as a benefit. Except excellent customer service has become a mirage.

I’ve never seen a stupid customer in my life and if you’re honest neither have you. They may have been misinformed or misunderstood something but that doesn’t make them stupid. They will eventually figure the goal is to “deflect” them and they will respond exactly the way we all would. 

There are still plenty of companies that have no plans to deflect their customers away from their human customer care teams. The customers who experience being “deflected” will find one of them. Then companies that deflect won’t have to worry about the “expense” of having those customers anymore.

They Said Yes, Now What?

The most successful salespeople know that when their customer says yes the relationship is just beginning. Less successful salespeople too often think that when the customer says yes the relationship is now closed.

That’s one of the reasons when I do Sales Training I try to avoid the term “closing the sale.” I use “earn the buying commitment” instead. I want the salespeople to understand that nothing is closed. Nothing is over. The customer has made a commitment to the salesperson and their product and they expect a commitment in return. 

“Closed,” at least when it comes to relationships has a terrible connotation to it. Nobody, not ever, has wanted to be “closed.” I mean really, is there a worse place to be than in the “closing room” at a car dealership?

When the customer says yes they expect every promise and every commitment that the salesperson made to be honored.  They expect them to be honored in a timely fashion with no hassles. They expect the price to be as quoted. They expect the delivery to happen on the date promised. They expect all paperwork and billing to be completed correctly. They expect their calls to be returned and all questions answered. They expect their calls returned quickly. 

They expect whatever it is they have purchased to work as promised and be free of defects. 

In short, they expect exactly what you would expect. The thing that amazes me is how many people will sell something only to “provide” a lower level of service then they would be willing to accept if they were the customer. 

As a professional salesperson, and as a human being, you will never go wrong fully honoring your commitments. When you take care of your customers your customers will take care of you. 

The Customer is Always Right

There is an excellent Grocery Store chain in the Northeastern United States. It’s called Stew Leonard’s. In the grocery business there is formula that determines the retail volume you should expect given the square footage of your space. The bigger the store the more retail volume…seems pretty basic. 

Except Stew Leonard’s has always been known to blow past that formula. In theory they should not be able to sell as much as they do given the size of their stores. 

But their most basic business principle has always been, “The Customer is Always Right.”

That principle is so important that they have it etched into a three-ton granite rock that is placed near the entrance to their store. It also includes an equally important second principle, or rule if you will. 

On the rock you’ll see: “Our Policy – Rule 1: The customer is always right! Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1!”

Now that’s kinda nice in principle but we all know in real life it’s a bunch of bull. Except it’s not. Not for the most customer centric businesses anyway. 

When I do Customer Service training I’ll begin by asking the groups about their roles as customer service representatives. I want to know what they think their job is. I get all the usual answers and for the most part they are pretty accurate. 

But I have never gotten the one answer I’m looking for. The answer I’m most looking for is this: “to make the customer right.” 

When everyone, not just customer service people, but everyone in an organization sees their fundamental responsibility as “making the customer right” you’ll have customers beating a path to your door. 

Making the customer right can sometimes mean influencing an often emotional customer to think differently about the situation. Sometimes it can mean adjusting your organization’s policy on the fly. Sometimes it can just mean changing your way of thinking… actually it will almost always mean changing your way of thinking. 

It means changing your way of thinking from “how can I show this customer they are wrong to how can I make this customer right.” It means changing our mentality to one of “winning” a dispute with a customer to one of winning the customer for life. 

Making the customer right can sometimes seem impossible. Sometimes the customer doesn’t exactly motivate us to want to help them be right. But seeming impossible is not the same as being impossible. It is also not the customer’s responsibility to motivate us to help them. 

Of this I am certain; if you do not always put the customer first in your business then you run the risk of becoming the last place they want to do business with. 

That doesn’t seem to be worth the risk to me so never forget rule #1, the customer is always right…even if you have to work some magic to make it so!

The Death of Customer Service

I’ve written about this topic before but “new” concepts in Customer Service keep popping up so I have to keep smacking them down.

One of the newest says that customers aren’t really customers….they are personas that have to be “dealt with.”

Wow, that really sounds like the right mindset for providing decent customer service to the people who buy your products so that you can stay in business so that you can feed your family and have a roof over your head.

Those “personas” are the people who pay for everything a business AND their employees own. When a company forgets that the customers, those pesky people who the company exists to serve, tend to go away.

And go away is exactly what they should do!

If you are in business then you are in the people business. If you refuse to acknowledge people are human beings and insist on calling them baggage, personas, problem causers, or whatever else you want to call them you’ll be out of business soon enough. The sad thing is how many people you’ll have frustrated along the way.

If you’re in business stop throwing money away on the latest Customer Service fad. Start treating your customers with the same decency and respect that you expect when you’re a customer.

It’s really that easy. Remember, you are in business to serve your customer. You are in business to help your customers. You are in business to solve problems for your customers. Are you getting this yet…you are in business for your customer’s benefit.

Your business is ALL ABOUT your customers.

Yes, you need to make money but if that’s your primary focus you can’t last. If you treat customers, every customer, with dignity and respect they will tell people about it. Those people will beat a path to your door. You will be making more money than you ever imagined.

You cannot go wrong taking care, showing care, and truly caring for your customer.

If some “professional” Customer Service Training Company tries to sell you or your company on the latest “fad” in customer service don’t even talk to them unless the customer, the real customers who keep your business in business, is at the center of that training.

If that so called training company calls a customer by any name other than customer you don’t need that kind of help. A customer by any other name will not feel valued the way they should.

Your people don’t need tricks, fads, or buzz words to help your customers. They need Human Relations Skills, also known as People Skills, because if you’re in business then you’re in the people business.

The day you forget that isn’t only the day your Customer Service dies, it’s also the day you start going out of business.