Cleaning the ‘Coffee Stains’ on Our Business

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A few months ago, a colleague and I were discussing education in our industry. He noted how sad it is that few owners or managers include education in their operation budget.

While we certainly spend a lot of time going to industry shows and conferences and look forward to the educational opportunities they offer, I realized we don’t always make education a priority as a line-item budget.

My friend told me about a seminar he’d recently attended with his co-workers, and I asked what sort of industry seminar it was. To my surprise, it had nothing to do with our industry, but everything to do with customer service. It occurred to me that when we speak of education, it must include more than sales, marketing or financing.

Education for our industry also has to do with people skills. This means taking a different look at how we treat people we perceive as non-customers – delivery people, drivers, manufacturer reps, etc. Although they may not be customers now, these people may need our services one day. And if we don’t treat them well, they may never become our customers.

Cleaning Up

After discussing this seminar with my friend, I enrolled in it along with our entire staff. The seminar talked about “coffee stains” – things we do that reflect badly on us.

Have your ever been on a plane, and when you opened the tray for the drinks, you found coffee stains? Ever wonder if the engine might have coffee stains, as well?

Well, until someone outside of the company points these coffee stains out to us, we may not look as closely as we should at how what we do on a daily basis reflects on our company as a whole.

I’ve always said that you only really need to be a little bit better than your closest competitor to be considered better. You don’t have to take great strides that most of us would consider unreasonable. Instead, you can just focus on small things you can do for your customers that will inspire them to tell others how great you were.

We all know how to create a positive image through our showrooms, our vehicles and our advertising. Most people know what level of installation they can expect or what level of quality they will get from us.

What they don’t know is how well we really will perform. Will we fall short of their expectations, or will we exceed them? As I am sure you have experienced, that may be a hit or miss proposition.

Setting An Example

Have you ever had an unhappy customer who you felt you bent over backwards to please? Have you ever turned to a colleague and called the customer too picky?

If that sounds a little familiar, be careful – owners and managers set the example. If you have ever seen an employee act with indifference toward a customer, perhaps what you really observed was your own influence.

Many years ago, I worked for a company that had on its back room wall a picture of a lion with a crown on its head. The caption read, “Around here, the customer is king.”

While I remember the poster, not once could I recall the owner or the manager ever referring to the customer as king. While the poster said it, the company attitude did not display it.

As a company, we need to remember who it is that provides us with the business and, by extension, the income we receive.

It is our customers who keep our business alive, and if we all, as an industry, would remember that, I believe we would take a different attitude toward how we treat and interact with them.

So, what can we do to clean up the “coffee stains” on our businesses?

For starters, we can do a better job of communicating with our clients, our staff and everyone in the company.

E-mail simplifies communication to multiple parties with very little effort and, as an added bonus, provides a permanent, written record of what was said and when.

90/10 Rule

Many years ago, we came up with the 90/10 rule: 90% of our customers are good and honest people who do what they say they will. The other 10% will never be satisfied with anyone or anything – there really is no way to satisfy their needs.

The key is not to make up rules to protect yourself from the 10% of your customers. Rather, you need to worry about the 90%.
We make sure that everyone on our staff will go the extra mile and that they realize what amazing results can come from it.

A few weeks ago, I received a call from one of our customers who asked where the countertop man he had been expecting at his project site was. He’d been told that he would be there first thing in the morning, and it was now 10:15 a.m. with no sign of him.

I checked and discovered that he had been rescheduled for that afternoon, but no one had let the customer know.

The customer then spent the next 30 minutes telling me all the problems he was having with our company in the process of trying to get his kitchen completed. I apologized for his troubles with us and asked if I could come out to see the problems with his project first hand.

What we discussed when I got there were really very little things, but at this point, the customer was tired of having all of these people in his house and still having no kitchen.

He was mostly just venting his frustration, but my being there to listen showed him that we did care and that we were working hard at getting his project completed.

By the time I left the job site, he thanked me for coming and told me that overall, he was very happy with the project.

When I returned to my office, I wrote a thank you card to him and explained what we were going to do and when, to reaffirm what I had said in our face-to-face meeting. I also sent him a gift certificate so he and his wife could go out and have a nice dinner on the company.

The following day when the counters were done, I checked in again with him. He informed me that they were missing eight shelf clips. I had them delivered within two hours of our conversation. After all was said and done, he thanked me for taking care of him and putting up with what he called his “stuff.”

As I look back on this, I believe that he thought we’d failed to meet his expectation, and he may have been right. Communication could have been better all around.

Yet before the seminar, I think I would have simply thought, hey, it’s not my fault. I now recognize that, as in any business, we have a choice to be just okay, or to go the extra mile toward greatness.

Coffee stains are everywhere in our firms – in everything from displays in our showrooms and how our field personnel dress to how we treat our customers – and we need to recognize these stains on our business, work to clean them up, and make everyone in the company equally accountable to our customers.

A favorite phase of mine is “Failure on your part, does not create an emergency on my part.” While we may need to react to situations, we need to make all parties responsible for the success of happy and satisfied customers.

Members of the BKBG address business strategies for kitchen and bath dealers in a regular bi-monthly column, appearing exclusively in KBDN.

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