Give them more than they expect

2008-03-31 00:00

"I really have enjoyed your recent articles on business and the economy, Frank. We shall certainly be looking at our overhead structure, with the objective of making less turnover produce the profit we need. In your opinion, is there one operational consideration we should focus on more, in terms of making our business successful during these tough times?"

Over the past few weeks, this question has been asked of me more than any other. There are, of course, a number of critical areas to look at when preparing your business for a period of rough seas. Not the least of these being gross margins — both value and percentage — along with the fixed and interest cost levels. However, none of these considerations would be my number one.

In an economy where we have too much capacity chasing too few price-sensitive customers, product or service quality is always extremely important. When the economy goes into free-fall, the importance of giving your customers more than they expect is essential to protecting PBT (profit before tax) generation.

For many of you in business, this statement could be seen as nothing more than the obvious. The trouble is that all too often we neglect the obvious. We can become so possessed with the need to analyse every business cost, with the objective of say,

bringing down the operational break-even, that we forget about service. In fact, it can even be worse than that, when the business owner just doesn’t appreciate the importance of all the aspects of product or service quality in terms of his realising his profit objective.

What I am saying to you is, whatever the nature of your business, now — more than ever — you must ensure that your customers get the finest possible product offering, coupled with the most excellent service. Recently, I have had a number of dealings with companies that almost reflected a complete opposite to this sentiment. Spectacle manufacturers promising goods within 10 days and still not ready three weeks later.

Restaurants delivering food to the table that had to be returned because the calamari was fridge-cold on the plate. No business can afford this at any time, let alone at a time when money is very tight, as it is today.

My suggestion is that owners of businesses become more innovative and creative in terms of their customer service, in order to develop a positive, discernible differentiation to their competitors. Using the spectacle supplier example above, certainly quote the customer 10 days, but have the product ready in eight days.

This is what I call improving the basic service. An example of creative service would be to also offer the customer a spectacle frame cleaning service, once the new pair has been fitted and taken. I mean, can you imagine how a customer would feel if the optometrist suggests that he leave his existing pair, which would be refurbished without additional cost?

Next week, I shall discuss a possible customer response or reaction to this in some detail. In essence, I believe such a service action would be incredibly well appreciated by the customer. So much so that they would tell friends about the wonderful service they received.

The opportunity to improve customer service and product quality begins with empathy — putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and asking, "How can we (metaphorically speaking), make love to that customer? How can we make our customers so happy that they want to return time and time again?" The answer is a simple one: give the customers more than they expect.

frankgreenfield@iafrica.com

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