Friday, March 4, 2016

Customer Disservice

Photo by CWCS Managed Hosting/Creative Commons
How much does it cost you to find a new customer?  Whether it's time or actual money, it costs more to bring new business in than it does to keep a client.

And no matter how long you've been in business, how big your business is or how many satisfied clients you have, you're always going to come up against an unhappy customer.  No one is perfect and mistakes are going to be made.  It's not whether or not you make mistakes that make the difference between good customer service and bad customer service; it's how you deal with it.

To prove the point, a few years ago, we did an experiment.  Dressed in clean, well-arranged jeans, dress shirt and tennis shoes and accompanied by my 7-year-old assistant, we went in search of a TV.  We walked into our first big-box store with $500 cash in hand.  I purposely didn't walk in like I normally would, confident, searching out a salesperson.  Instead, we walked in, headed straight to the television section and waited to be approached by a salesperson.  We looked at various televisions, looked at the price tags, my assistant played on the floor and ate some candy, and we waited. 

While we were waiting, several salespeople watched us.  They waited on men who were similarly dressed, all of whom came in after we did.  Most did not buy, but they were treated cordially.  After 35 minutes of waiting and other people coming in and out of the department, my assistant and I decided we had had enough.  We still had not been approached.

On the way out, we approached this group of salespeople.  I took out my $500 cash as we walked up and said to the person who seemed to be the ringleader:  "I had $500 cash ready to buy a TV and really wanted to buy from your store, but I can't wait any longer." 

His reply?  "Well, soooooooo-ry!" 

By contrast, we drove across the street to a competing big-box appliance store.  We did not change anything except that I was perhaps a little more ... determined.  We walked into the television section and were immediately acknowledged by a salesperson who asked if we needed anything.  From that moment on, we were treated with respect and dignity, even though we did not buy.

In fairness, I called the general manager of the first store and gave him a chance to at least offer an apology.  His reply was, needless to say, astonishingly clueless:  "What do you want me to say?  We train our salespeople to profile the customers with the highest purchase potential and you didn't fit that profile."

The moral of the story?  Perception is reality.  My perception was that we were not being acknowledged.  The salesperson's perception?  We did not fit the profile.  Regardless of which perception was "right," rule #1 in business is that it's always better to acknowledge a customer's point of view and apologize sincerely than it is to be "right."  You never know when that customer will come back or refer someone to you just because you said you were sorry and took care of them.  

What does it cost you?  Only a little pride.  In the end, what's more important – the customer or the pride?

Next, we'll look at how to handle an upset customer and the cost of not doing it right.

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