Focusing on and Improving Customer Service

The April edition of American Laundry News’ Panel of Experts has been released, and our own David Bernstein weighs in on the topic of improving customer service for laundry customers. Read his and the other Experts’ comments on the American Laundry News web site, or see below for David’s contribution.

Legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, “it takes months to find a customer … seconds to lose one.” Truer words have never been said, so kudos to you for deciding to focus on your business’ customer service and retention.

I’ve been teaching (and preaching to) internal teams and external groups on this topic for many years and one of the first things I teach is that every member of your team, no matter their official title or job description, should consider themselves members of your customer service and retention team.

Take, for example, the receptionist at the Las Vegas branch of a major national chain whose desktop nameplate described her title as the director of first impressions. Consider the route service representative who shows genuine interest in his or her customers’ businesses, needs and challenges, and gets to know the people behind the signature on the delivery receipt. Or how about the person in the pressing department who had learned exactly how a particular professional likes to have her doctor coat pressed?

So, if you’re looking for ways of examining your customer service, start with an examination of your company culture (a topic we explored last issue) and be certain that you are instilling in your team an attitude of gratitude and service to those who help us put food on our tables.

Once you’ve examined and started to improve your company culture, it is time to start thinking about the ways you can improve service to and for your customers.

Like any good investigation, you need to start at the beginning, which in this case, means your sales process. Make certain that your salespeople have a well-defined and repeatable needs-analysis process so that they have a clear understanding of each prospect’s needs and challenges.

The best proposals will mirror the needs analysis, ensuring that the offered products and services not only match each prospect’s particular needs and challenges, but also address the specific benefits of your offer to meet those needs and challenges.

As part of every good proposal, and as the foundation of the strongest customer relationships, your salespeople also need to be certain to clearly delineate the mutual expectations of the proposed agreement.

Too often salespeople gloss over important, but somewhat uncomfortable, topics such as payment terms, pricing, and other areas that could raise a prospect’s eyebrows, but unless these are discussed up front, there is real risk of this becoming a short-term, rather than an enduring relationship.

One of my favorite articles on this topic appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 2003. The article, “Negotiating the Spirit of the Deal,” by Ron Fortgang, David Lax and James Sebenius, advises readers that, “while the parties agree to the same terms on paper, they may actually have very different expectations about how the agreement will work in practice. Without their arriving at a true meeting of the minds, the deal they’ve signed may sour.”

After you’ve signed the contract and started delivering your products and services to your customers, the real work of cementing the relationship begins.

The same salesperson who closed the deal needs to follow up with their customers on a periodic basis to reinforce what they promised in the sales process, to learn how your company can improve, and most importantly, to gather examples of how your products and services can help (so that you can share these success stories with future prospects), and to find out who else your customer knows who might benefit from your products and services.

After all, cold calls have a close rate of about 1-2%, while referred sales see close rates ranging from 55-80%!

In addition to regular visits by your sales team, you should also engage the services of a third-party phone survey firm to ensure that your customers are absolutely delighted with your products and services, with your service representative, and that they have not had any unsatisfactory experiences with your company.

In his book The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld explores how asking questions like these lead to what he calls a “net promoter score,” and how this score predicts, based upon customer satisfaction, which companies will experience sustainable growth, and which will shrink. Just as you track key performance indicators like pounds per operator hour, cost per pound, etc., you should also be tracking your “net promoter score” and always be striving to learn from and improve it.

These are just some of the ways you can examine and improve your customer service and retention; there are myriad additional tips and strategies you can use to improve your company culture, customer service, retention, and renewals, if only space permitted.

What is critical is that you have the desire and the will to examine what your company is doing to ensure customer satisfaction and retention, and that is half the battle.

While you’re going down this road, it will benefit you to remember the words of Henry Ford on this topic when he said, “It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”

The above article originally appeared in American Laundry News.