Good customer service is talked about all the time, but very few companies and organizations really understand what it entails. I know executives who run companies that are doing quite well today but will run into problems in the future because they don't practice quality customer service.
They don't think treating customers well is necessary. After all, business is good, so why slow the process down by interjecting some customer service program that will only cost you money?
I understand the pressure and the temptation to ignore customer service. Building a good product and bringing in customers have a more immediate effect on profitability than customer service, and we live in times when the next quarter is what people think about.
But I believe that if an organization ignores training its staff to take care of customers, it is only hurting its business in the long run. I think you should treat customers like long-lost cousins.
Everyone has all sorts of stories about bad service. It happens to most of us every day. Maybe you want to refinance your mortgage or order something from a well-known department store or even buy an airline ticket. In order to do so, you almost always are greeted by some sort of computer.
Instead of a personal greeting and courteous service, you are treated as no more important than a number on a screen.
Frankly, healthcare is just as guilty as many other businesses for the cavalier way in which healthcare professionals and many healthcare systems treat patients. Think about the way insurance companies treat their members, and you get the picture.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about. I was having trouble with my cell phone. It had been going on for months, but I had been too busy to do anything about it.
Finally, one day I decided to go to my local cell phone supplier and upgrade my phone.
The cell phone company I deal with is known all over the country. It does a lot of aggressive marketing, telling everyone how important its customers are. On the day I arrived I got there early, just as the sign said the store was supposed to open. The door was locked and the lights were off, but I was determined to hang around until somebody showed up. Finally, someone did, about 15 minutes late.
The fellow was not in a good mood and made it clear he couldn't do anything for me until his colleagues arrived. He then opened the door and locked it again so I couldn't gain entry. Finally, some other employees did arrive, and I was the first customer there. A young man told me to sit down and said to give him a few minutes and he would help me.
What ensued was almost surreal. Everybody wanted to order coffee and for the next five to 10 minutes everybody talked about coffee and what he or she did the night before. I was about to scream at someone, but I kept my mouth shut. I got my new phone but not until after I became disenchanted with this company. Think it will get my business when my phone deal is up?
In today's highly competitive marketplace, with companies going bankrupt right and left, customer service is critically important to any company's current and future success.
Too many businesses have become so enamored with their success and growth that they have forgotten how they got there, which is sticking with their core business and making sure their customers are satisfied with their products and services.
Look at McDonald's Corp. and its ``new''' approach, which really is its old approach. James Cantalupo, the company's CEO, said it best recently: ``We took our eyes off our fries and lost our focus. We get it. We are shifting from adding new restaurants. Now we'll focus on adding customers to the restaurants we already have.''
Mr. Cantalupo is smart enough to realize that keeping things simple pays off for any business and taking care of your customers is really the simplest thing of all, but too many businesses today take customers for granted. Instead, they should be treated royally, even coddled.
Now, I would add that in order to take care of your customers, you have to make sure your employees feel valued. After all, how can anyone expect employees or colleagues to take good care of customers if they are treated badly?
My philosophy always has been to treat those who are dealing with customers day in and day out as well as you would customers. Employees want to be paid attention to, they want to be treated with dignity and respect and don't want to be taken for granted. If you do those things for your workers, you will be repaid handsomely in satisfied customers.
All of us should do a better job of dealing with customers and if we do, it will pay off now and in the future. It takes top management commitment, a lot of patience and people who really believe the customer is king.
Customer service is forever.
Charles Lauer is publisher of Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Tire Business, based in Chicago. He is the author of two books, ``Reach for the Stars'' and ``Soar with the Eagles.''