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May 22, 2017

Think “Customer” before you Think “Customer Service”

Customer service. It is critical to maintaining long-term relationships with customers. Organizations like Nordstrom and Disney have shared their secrets to great service over the years. Michael Brown challenged the traditional thinking on customer service in his book, Fresh Notes on Customer Service. His premise is customers should come second and the emphasis should be on employees, who if treated well, will provide outstanding service.  Other books and articles offer lots of tips about how to train your employees and create a culture that values service. I think the biggest key to customer service is one that is often overlooked. It’s the customer you choose to serve.

I know it seems obvious, but I believe you can only achieve great customer service if you are serving the right customer for your business. This means you need to focus on who the customer is long before you serve them. Too often a company tries to be all things to all people. Upfront you should consider how your products, services, and approach to doing business match your customer’s requirements.

If your customer needs you to do a lot of custom work and you are only structured to provide standard product, you will disappoint.

If your lead time is two to three weeks and your customer is constantly calling at the last minute, you will disappoint.

If your customer likes a lot of personal attention, meetings, and phone calls, and you want the process to be more online and automated, you will disappoint.

If you like to be on the cutting edge and constantly innovating, and your customer wants to do the same thing over and over, you will disappoint, not to mention you will get frustrated and annoyed.

So, before you think about how to service a customer, consider whether it is a customer you want. Ask yourself: Is the work something that fits well into your existing workflow, processes, and the capabilities of your company? Would it be a stretch to deliver what your customer is asking for, or require a capital investment you are not prepared to make, like adding inventory? What if it just isn’t work you are ramped up to do? If the work is not part of your core capabilities, it takes longer to accomplish. You simply may not be able to provide timely service. You really need to think about whether the client can, and will be, good for your business in the long-term.

Once you get the client, you need to perform, and unfortunately, most don’t. A recent study by SuperOffice that benchmarked customer service stated, “Most companies know what they need and should deliver excellent customer service. But interestingly enough, research shows that while 80% of businesses believe they provide excellent customer service, in fact only 8% of customers believe they are actually receiving excellent service.”

Next week, I will share some thoughts about that.


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