In 1976, when Crain Communications purchased Modern Healthcare from McGraw-Hill, I used to call on a client in Cincinnati called the American Laundry Co. The company once had advertised heavily in the magazine but had taken its advertising and switched to one of our competitors. I worked on that account for two years before the company finally returned to Modern Healthcare as a customer.
But I still can remember vividly the day I made my first call on American Laundry, whose offices were located at the top of a long, steep wooden staircase. I recall thinking that a visit to this company must have been a real chore for anyone who wasn't in good shape. After making it to the top of the stairs, I was met by a friendly receptionist who greeted me with a big smile and politely asked me to wait for a few minutes because the person I wanted to see was busy in a meeting.
That's when I noticed the sign behind the receptionist. It was a scroll from the Martinizing dry-cleaning company with some of the most inspirational words I had ever seen. In those days, Martinizing stores provided one-hour service if the customer wanted clothes done quickly. The sentiments on that scroll are the very thoughts that professional salespeople feel deeply about, but this was the first time I had seen those words presented in such an inspirational way. They are words to live by for anyone in business.
The words I want to share with you must be inculcated into the core beliefs of any business enterprise. Though most of us practice the spirit of these sentiments from time to time, they have to be taught and discussed consistently and openly among colleagues. They are what separate the winners and the losers in any enterprise, and they are simple steps to follow. I'll try to explain them from my point of view.
The scroll contained 11 vitally important points, and I'll start with the first: "A customer is the most important person in any business." Look around today and see what's happening. Many companies don't seem to realize that satisfied customers are the key to success.
For instance, while shopping at a Best Buy store in a Chicago suburb recently, I found myself in a long, slow line of fellow customers waiting to pay for their purchases. It surprised me that the line was so long and that the store had not made provisions for more salesclerks to handle traffic at the checkout stations. Suddenly, there was a burst of activity, and someone yelled, "Next in line, please." The long line quickly disappeared, and soon I was paying for my purchases. The young man at the checkout station apologized for the wait and added, "This is the third store they have sent me to straighten out. I have to institute some new policies that will make the place better for the customers. I've got to make everybody understand that customers come first."
This young man is going places.
The second thought on the scroll was, "A customer is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him." No. 3 read, "A customer is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it." How many times have we heard someone say things such as, "If it wasn't for the patients, this would be a great place to work"? I've heard it, and I'll bet you have, too.
No. 4: "A customer does us a favor when he calls. We are not doing him a favor by serving him." I have done business with all kinds of service people who seem to feel they are doing me the biggest favor in the world by either serving me a meal or taking my money after I've purchased groceries or filled up with gas at a service station. Usually, there's no smile and very little eye contact, if any at all.
No. 5: "A customer is a part of our business, not an outsider." Too many businesses make this mistake constantly. They think of the customer as either an inconvenience or the enemy-and not the individual most responsible for the business being a success. Then there's No. 6: "A customer is not a cold statistic. He is a flesh-and-blood human being with feelings and emotions like our own."
Ladies and gentlemen, we are all customers, and we all want to be treated with dignity and respect, especially when we are spending our money with a certain business. It's the least we should expect. Yet in many cases, our first contact with a business is a computerized answering service, which instructs us what we must do to spend our money. Think about that.
The airlines are the worst offenders, and they continue to have financial woes. Years ago, I was stranded in St. Louis after my flight from New York was rerouted when O'Hare Airport was closed by inclement weather. I had a meeting the next morning in Chicago, and I was uptight about getting back. I telephoned Major Airline A and was greeted by a computerized voice-mail system asking me to press No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 on the telephone. And when I pressed 1, I waited and waited and finally gave up.
The same thing happened with Major Airline B. After another long wait on hold, I called Southwest Airlines. I was greeted by a real, live person right off the bat-even though it was 2 a.m. She cheerfully arranged to have a ticket waiting for me on a 6 a.m. flight to Chicago. I made my meeting. What impressed me most was not only the live greeting but the personal interest this woman took in my needs. She really seemed to care. It's no wonder Southwest is still making money when other airlines are asking Uncle Sam to bail them out of their financial predicament.
The seventh saying on that scroll was: "A customer is not someone to argue or match wits with." No. 8: "A customer is a person who brings us his wants. It is our job to fill those wants." No. 9: "A customer is deserving of the most courteous and attentive treatment we can give him." No. 10 is my favorite: "A customer is the lifeblood of this and every other business." That's really the bottom line, isn't it? Without customers, nothing happens. And finally, No. 11: "A customer is the person who makes it possible to pay our salaries."
These are 11 simple, basic statements that define the word customer. Nothing fancy, nothing dramatic and nothing very complicated. Yet most so-called "customer service" today literally stinks because people haven't been educated and trained to comprehend the importance of a customer.
(To see a complete list of these 11 rules, please click here.)
It's never too late to start,