Building customer relationships is the key to success

"Whatever you do for a living, never forget that you are always in a relationship business. Those darn customers might cause you headaches from time to time, but you ain’t got nuthin’ without them. Work to build stronger relationships with your customers every day. Work to add more value every day to your customers. Think both in terms of the big picture and the smallest details. Think both in terms of the quality of your products and service and in terms of how the person feels when they are interacting with you. If you make a mistake, admit it and truly make up for it. If you can do something extra for a customer that would really make a difference, do it."

These are the words (emphasis is mine) of Dan Coughlin, in his Business Acceleration Newsletter this month.  He cites specific examples of what to do and what not to do in building customers relationships.

With his permission, I quote his examples:

Example #1: Nordstrom’s
Recently I drove from St. Louis to Chicago for a very important meeting. About 150 miles into the trip a question popped into my mind: "I did put my sports jacket and shirt into the car, didn’t I?" I looked back and confirmed my concern. No jacket, no shirt.

(I know, I know. You’re wondering how a person can drive 150 miles and not realize that sort of thing. Let’s just say it’s one of my special characteristics. My wife, Barb, used to think it was kind of cute. She doesn’t think it’s so cute any more.)

So I did the next logical thing: I called the Nordstrom’s in downtown Chicago just off of Michigan Avenue to see if they could help me out. A very pleasant man answered the phone, listened to my description of what I needed, told me the store would probably be closed by the time I got there but that he would wait for me, and told me to call back if I needed more directions. I called back a few times for specific directions, and finally showed up thirty minutes after the store was closed. He was waiting for me with a cold bottle of water. He said, "I knew you didn’t have time to stop so I thought you might be thirsty." He had a great sports jacket set aside that fit me perfectly, and he had the exact shirt I wanted pressed and ready for me to wear. I bought those two items and two more shirts he pointed out that would work with the jacket.
Let’s Review the Facts:
This salesman did not know me at all. I had never been in that store before. He did not know for certain that I would show up. He knew I wasn’t going to make it in regular store hours.

In spite of all that, he was waiting for me with a cold bottle of water. He had obviously listened well when I gave him my coat and shirt sizes.

The reason I thought to call Nordstrom’s was because of consistent incredible customer service experiences in the past.

Example #2: The United States Postal Service
I have had a P.O. Box at my local post office for four years. Every year they put an invoice in my mailbox for the next twelve months, which I then pay. If you miss your payment, they put a five-day reminder notice in the box. And then they shut down the box.

A few weeks ago I came home from two business trips and stopped by the post office. My key didn’t work. I went to the window and explained that my key didn’t work and asked what had happened. They said I hadn’t paid my bill. I said, "What bill? I didn’t see an invoice in my box." The post office employee said, "I put a notice in your box, and you didn’t pay it. I put a reminder in your box, and you still didn’t pay. So I closed your box." I said, "Well, where is my mail that was in my box?" He said, "I mailed it back." By now I was fuming. I said, "Isn’t it possible that you made a mistake and never put the invoice in my box? I was traveling for the past five days and didn’t see the reminder." He slammed the door in my face. I went to the counter and paid the bill I had never seen.

The next week I went to buy an extra key for the box since they had changed my lock. The woman said, "Oh you’re about the tenth customer to complain. Apparently they sent those invoices to the downtown location and they never made their way here." Then, and here was her idea of customer service, she said, "I won’t charge you the dollar for the key since it was our fault."

Let’s Review the Facts
I was a customer at that location for four years. I had never missed a payment on my P.O. Box. They had my contact information. I have been in their building at the front counter at least twice a month for four years. And yet in spite of all of this they closed my box, returned my mail, and slammed the door in my face. Hhhhmmmm.

Example #3: Toyota
To me, Toyota provides value in multiple ways to customers.

First, they sell incredibly well-made cars and trucks at reasonable prices. They are thinking about the customer’s long-term best interests by being maniacal in the manufacturing and design of their automobiles.

Second, several years ago they realized the economic crunch that would be created for consumers by the fuel shortage. Consequently, they invested millions of dollars in developing a hybrid car named the Prius. Many people laughed at the idea of a car being partially run by a battery. Today with gasoline approaching $4 a gallon the Prius has become an incredibly hot-selling car. Toyota then applied its engineering to the world’s most popular car, the Toyota Camry, and created the Camry Hybrid.

I’ve been so intrigued by Toyota for the past 18 months that I decided to look into purchasing a Toyota car. I went to a local Toyota dealership, Lou Fusz Toyota, and met with a sales consultant and the sales manager. Both of those men were extremely honest, patient, and down-to-earth. I was very impressed with both of them, and ended up leasing the Toyota Camry Hybrid for three years.

Let’s Review the Facts
When people think of Toyota they think of incredibly well-made cars. But Toyota went beyond that by understanding the challenges that fuel shortages would create for consumers. They thought big picture, and they executed the details of great manufacturing. But they went beyond that. They provided a great customer experience at the dealership level. That’s a complete package of customer relations.

The moral of Dan’s stories:  You are in a Relationship Business! Need more be said?


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