Customers bugged by poor service

Imagine if I were to ask ten of the most talented and experienced entre-preneurs: “what is the most important ingredient in running a successful service business?”. I could get ten different answers: knowledge, experience, capital, advertising, training, marketing, develop-ment, research, staffing and budgeting.

I am sure the list could be expanded to infinity and no doubt most would include the element I regard as the most important: Service Customer Satisfaction (SCS).

The reason I write on this topic arises from our own experiences since my wife and I retired.

Our qualification for quoting that element is backed by thirty years of running a business started in Perth in 1958. By 1961, we had expanded to South Australia, Victoria and Queensland. We developed a branch structure covering some twenty regional offices in those states.

We sold out to a national company in 1988. They lasted about two years, lost considerable money and sold it on.

We did not make a huge fortune but ran profitably for all those years. Not only did it furnish us with a comfortable retirement but, during the latter years, we were able to travel the world visiting all continents except Africa. We plan to do that next year.

Of course, we armed ourselves with knowledge in all of the elements I listed in the opening paragraph.

We joined our industry organisation in the US and attended their conferences annually for more than twenty years.

We helped to develop similar trade associations in Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane and instigated the first licensing of our technicians in Australia.

For many years we taught at TAFE colleges in several states. We joined the chambers of commerce in all states where we operated in order to create a networking opportunity.

We belonged to the local branch of our political party and were actively involved. This helped us to gain the ear of government when problems in our industry arose.

However, having acknowledged the importance of those elements, we still contend that, despite them, all is lost if you don’t provide SCS.

Management and staff must be made aware of the importance of SCS.

We asked our customers to sign a work docket after each service on which the following questions were asked:

• Are you satisfied with the job that has been done?

• Do you agree with the time stated for its performance?

• Please pay the technician now. A 2.5 per cent discount will apply. (This worked – we had less than 0.1 per cent bad debts)

• Could you provide, in the following space, the name of a relative or friend who could be interested in a free appraisal?

We made sure all managers’ names and telephone numbers were quoted as the after hours contacts.

We installed, as soon as they became available, Commander Phone systems with multiple extensions – giving any member of staff the ability to answer the phone before the fourth ring.

Despite learning about the offensive prompt system (Press button 1, 2, etc) which started in the US some years ago, we decided against it.

We installed two-way radios in all branches and all of our vehicles, later replaced by mobile phones. In the country, where it was not practical to have an office, phone calls were diverted to the technician’s home. We could often provide a quote or service within minutes of receiving a call.

All staff were trained how to answer complaints – particularly those from angry or aggressive people. Apart from primarily saying sincerely: “I am sorry, how can I correct the problem?” we advised against using excuses.

Very little of the above is new or of our own invention.

I started my commercial career as a door-to-door commission salesman in 1948. The company I worked for trained us by holding breakfast sessions each morning. The proprietors had been trained by the Hoover and Chrysler corporations respectively.

The saying “there is nothing new under the sun” when it comes to human dev-elopment and business practice rings true. Old and well-proven common sense practices should still prevail.

However, our experiences as consumers over the past few years indicate that SCS is not standard among local businesses.

Calls for assistance with our refrigerator, washing machine, motor vehicle, banking, insurance and other household and private services have encountered the following:

• Irksome prompted telephone answering systems. In one case it took three and a half minutes to speak to a person

• Difficulty in reaching managers when problems are not resolved at source

• A lack of apology in nearly all cases. I don’t think we have ever heard the statement, “we’re sorry”

• The habit of staff not referring the complaint to owner or manager when unable to solve the problem

• Using a chain of excuses

• Unsympathetic attitudes, making the customer feel they are wrong

• Outright lies about the reason for the problem

• The suggestion that the customer’s choice of the product best suited was made against the provider’s original advice.

Not only is it a matter of proper training but management must have the inherent desire to please.

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