How to go the extra mile

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Lately, I’ve been knocked out by exceptional service from good old Australian businesses. However, recently I was approached by an American who has started a business and is absolutely nonplussed at how crummy his team is at looking after customers.

If you’re building up a workforce, you have to put some time into creating a staff that exudes the ‘wow factor’ when it comes to customer service.

By the way, don’t think the big, international operations have nailed the secrets of great customer service.

For years I’ve suffered at least two related problems. The first was the fact that I have a pathetic, and I believe typically male, problem of leaving things behind. And lately, the weakness has been played out in hotel rooms where I have often left razors, t-shirts, running shoes and mobile phone chargers.

Apparently the problem is so big that a guy has started a business that offers rewards for people to mail back things left behind! (I have never lost a laptop computer, but that’s where a service like this would come into its own!)

The second part of the problem is that I can never work out why these great foreign, often American hotel chains, can’t get off their rear ends to ring people when they find something left in the room.

Recently, some fool apologist for the hotel chains tried to argue that there was some systematic issue about the cleaners having to tag what they found to ensure the right people were rung. It was a rubbish argument and it was proved to me by an exceptional business.

Now let me assure you that this is not a cash-for-comment pay back, but this story does involve a place my wife and I recently stayed at the Margaret River in WA.

The place was called Cape Lodge and it was so good I haven’t had the courage to look at the bill my wife paid. (No freebies, though the chef did let us take two extra of his unbelievable breakfast muffins for our afternoon tea.)

True to form I left one of my favorite CDs in the rooms hi-fi system and some days later, in the mail, it arrived with a nice letter. Unbelievable, someone in hospitality actually got it right! And the payoff is big. Not only do they secure our loyalty when next we’re in the area, they have picked up this free publicity.

When businesses go the extra mile they can benefit in ways they could never imagine. The word-of-mouth implications can be massive and that’s why smart business owners should train their staff to treat customers with respect – even the bad ones who you’d really like to give a free, one-way trip to Timbuktu.

Good behavior towards customers is a part of your marketing. Here’s one of the most powerful marketing messages I have picked up over my 20 years in business for myself and 10 years analyzing the best small and medium businesses in the country: everything you do in business from the way you talk to customers and staff, to the way you answer the phone, to the way you present your business and even yourself is all marketing.

When you remember that, it will drive you to be unbelievably professional in everything you do in business.

I suspect I have run this idea by my readers before, but it really bears repeating. Research work of Michael Le Boeuff, who wrote How to Win and Keep Customers should be read out to everyone in your business. He came up with numbers we all should never forget.

“A typical business hears from only four per cent of its dissatisfied clients. The other 96 per cent just quietly go away and 91 per cent never come back. Many customers are conflict avoiders and they walk away from your business and talk badly about you if you rough them up.”

And there is more bad news from Le Boeuff. “A typical unhappy customer tells eight to ten people about their problem. One in five will tell 20!”

If you can’t deal with a troublesome customer, put a system in place where someone else handles it. On the plus side, think about using customer feedback devices so you know what’s going on in your business, but make sure that these don’t actually annoy your customers.

John Lees, one of Australia’s leading marketing minds, and Grow Your Business expert, always bags these big hotel chains that ask you to fill in customer feedback forms which can have more than 50 questions!

Lees argues these forms are ignored by most customers and even irritate them but he says that there could be a payoff for the hotel. You might need to stay an extra night in the hotel to fill in the form!

The bottom line is to anticipate your customers’ needs and get your ego out of the way of making money.

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