Is Success Spoiling your Business?

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I see it all the time, successful businesses of every color, stripe and size raking in the cash through the tills their owners, managers and board of directors like so much.

However, does that mean they are as successful as they can possibly be? I would have to say, “No.” No matter how good or successful you are at any endeavor there is always room to improve. Is your business even as good as it once was? I don’t necessarily mean are you making more money? You may be making dramatically more overall, but that isn’t the only measure of success in a customer-service related field. I dare say it’s even a fairly unimportant measure of your success in any customer service endeavor.

You see it all the time; big, successful companies continually spending millions of dollars advertising how customer friendly they are. Their ads and commercials show smiling, happy, well-mannered and attractive employees having very pleasant interactions with customers who also happen to be, smiling, happy and proud to patronize whatever business the advertisement is touting. Geez, I want to go to that place!

Often when you do end up going, instead of the happy and attentive employees who’re eager to assist you, you can’t find anyone ready to help. And when you do, they may be distracted or preoccupied with another task and not willing or able to give you their full attention.

Unfortunately, it is becoming more common to have to deal with employees who are openly dissatisfied with their job and make zero effort to be courteous or assist you in any way beyond a level of interaction that will prevent them from being terminated.

Which companies am I talking about? Pick one or a dozen! It seems it is an epidemic these days. Maybe even your business is displaying this attitude toward your customers. Of course, I know no one — myself included — who would ever admit to knowingly let this type of erosion creep into their company, and certainly, no one would admit their company runs like this. In spite of it, I am going to make the statement that many of you have locations being run like this.

It is an insidious, creeping condition that seeps its way into many businesses, but strangely only the most successful business are the ones most prone to its detrimental effects.

I can illustrate it with a recollection of my own story. As a tech and store manager many years ago, I was very good at my job. (If I do say so myself.) I delivered great customer service to every customer. I followed every presentation and service procedure exactly as prescribed and I worked accurately and with a sense of urgency. I had very happy customers, my bosses liked me and I enjoyed my work and took pride in being good at it. Most other people either acknowledged I was a “better salesman” (and other derogatory terms) than them or figured my many years of experience gave me an edge over them. Truth be told, I was only a couple months in when I started to really get a handle on it, so my experience level had nothing to do with it. The truth of the matter is, I was not smarter, better looking, more personable or more agile than anyone I ever worked with, yet I consistently turned in better numbers. There is only one reason why my performance or your performance will be at the top of the charts, and it’s called, customer service.

How much has been written over the last 100 years about good ol’ customer service? Enough to deforest a thousand acres or more I am sure. Yet, it is still the fundamental aspect of running a great business that eludes all operators to one degree or another. No matter if you feel good, bad or indifferent about your customers’ perceptions of your business, every single business in America can stand to improve.

A new way to think about customer service is something I call customer dedication. Instead of just thinking about the phrase customer service, I have always thought of the phrase customer dedication. Here is my secret: Be 100 percent dedicated to the service of the customer in front of you.

You may be thinking that sounds simple and obvious, but let me put it into perspective for you. When I was a lube tech if I was not working with a customer at any given moment, I was standing at the front of the bay waiting for one. I was thinking about oil and air filters, greetings and presentations. When a car drove up, I was already in place to greet them. I did not sit in the office in between cars and flip through year old magazines and chat with the other employees. In fact, whenever my store manager, Tom, called for trashcan duty, every employee grabbed cans and barrels of trash to take to the dumpster, except me. If I wasn’t with a customer, I stood right at the front of my bay, waving at passing traffic and waiting for a car.

Some of the other techs got annoyed that I didn’t have to help with the trash, but Tom would always set them straight, “Do what Kit does, and you won’t empty trash around here either.” Clearly this did not endear me to all of my fellow employees, but I didn’t care, my only concern was customers.

When I became a store manager, very little about my attitude changed, and it definitely caused some troubles for me with my bosses. My office was mess because I was never in there during open hours, so it just became a catchall for everything. Sitting behind a chair in the office did not serve customers, so I didn’t do it. I would not count inventory during business hours — it didn’t serve customers. I would only do things — or allow my crew to do things — during business hours that directly served customers. All interviews were either before or after business hours. But the No. 1 peeve of my bosses was I would not take phone calls from them during business hours. I would instruct whoever answered the phone to take a message. If it was important enough, I might call back right away, but most often I’d call back after closing. I was always on the floor, waiting for or waiting on customers.

Boy, did that make them mad! As it turned out, most calls from my boss were about nothing pressing, an old invoice needed pulling from the attic/basement or someone was coming to town or did I have an employee to spare for another location? None of those things were more important to me than the customer in the building, on the floor right now.

Dedication is how you make your customers happy. But then, success happens. Years later you find maybe you aren’t getting the raving-fan customers you used to get. Maybe they don’t tell you to your face and you might not be getting any direct complaints, but they aren’t coming right up to you and telling you what an awesome experience they had in your shop like they used to.

Does this sound familiar to you? If so, think about your daily routine: Are you dedicated to your customers when they are right in front of you or do you find yourself taking phone calls? Are you more concerned with your daily car count than giving a good presentation? Are you trying to get each car out as fast as possible as your main priority instead of focusing on what each customer wants? Are you dedicated to your customer, or are you dedicated to your business? There’s a difference.

I hate picking on any particular business, but sometimes it is just appropriate. At all the McDonald’s stores around where I live, they are very concerned with making sure their customers get in and out of the drive-thru as quickly as possible. That makes sense; the customers will be happier if they get through quicker. To facilitate this many stores have what they call “zoom timers.” It is a big, digital readout. It’s visible to crewmembers showing them how many seconds each car is waiting in the drive-thru. The company has a goal for that time, and the recorded times are monitored and recorded to ensure they are meeting their zoom time goals. Still good; there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, some locations pay bonuses to managers and crew for hitting certain zoom time goals consistently. This is good for the crew, but not so good for customers. Here is what happens: You pay at the first window, you drive to the second window to pick up your food and then you are directed to “drive forward and we will bring the food out to you when it is ready.” This is where the wheels fall of the wagon. Instead of becoming better at the getting the food properly and quickly prepared to give to the customers in the allotted time frame they’re most concerned with ensuring the “zoom timer” has acceptable recordings.

Moving you away from the window stops the timer, but does nothing to help the customer get their order faster. In fact, it actually slows down the service because now an employee has to leave the kitchen area, walk through the dining room and out to the curb to hand you your food, which takes a lot more time than simply handing it out the window. They have become so dedicated to the zoom time that even the customer becomes secondary. What is wrong with this picture?

Look around your shop. Are you just serving your customers, or are you dedicated to them?

Dedicate yourself to your customers 100 percent of the time, and make it happen!

KIT SULLIVAN is a partner in a multi-unit, Florida-based quick lube company. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Sullivan has more than 28 years experience in sales and management training. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. He can be reached via email: quicklubekit@aol.com

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