Originally published 2/5/18.
When I wanted to find new content for the blog, I decided that several perspectives were necessary to really have a better ground in service. I can only share so much of my personal experience! To really get a feel for how service affects us all, it was determined that interviewing others who run their own businesses can give an alternative perspective to service and the lifestyle it requires.
Below is the story of my friend, Rick Barrett, a man I’ve had the pleasure of building a great friendship with over the years. I asked Rick the following questions, which he masterfully weaved into his tale of running his own business and interacting with the world:
1. How important is customer service to your business?
2. What percentage of time do you believe is customer service oriented?
3. How do you define service to others?
4. How do the principles of service to others in business affect your personal life?
5. Do you believe that customer service can be taught?
6. How did your level of customer service affect your business?
7. How do you measure your level of service to others?
8. Any tips for those who want to be in a position of service no matter their field?
Here is what Rick has to say:
I started doing mail order as a kid in the early 1970s when I sold stamps that I bought at the post office to collectors who couldn’t get those issues. In 1979, I did it in a much bigger fashion and on a regular basis when I began placing ads to sell collectible used records; I got responses from all over the world. My first catalogs came out in the early 1980s and I did about one a year, which was a nice way to supplement my income, again, selling used records. In the 1990s, I went all out, and mailed out a catalog every month for 10 years to people in more than 30 countries. My orders came by mail, fax, phone, and eventually the internet. Online activity eventually made the cost to print and mail a catalog obsolete; the printing and postage for an 18,000 name mailing list was obviously substantial. So eBay and web sites have been how I’ve sold items of all kinds since 2000.
Throughout the past 39 years, I have learned that it is so much easier to help make customers happy on the front end than to allocate resources to deal with situations after a sale. Since mail order is my platform, when an order is received, it has to be processed, pulled, packed, and shipped. So my philosophy has been that the tasks must eventually be tended to; so why not do it as quickly as possible (since it has to be done anyway)?
One of the best benefits is that customer service situations are lessened because quality, prompt attention has been given to their needs. I also use quality supplies when shipping items (rarely do I reuse packing materials for business purposes), and make sure that each order is well packed. That provides a good impression, hopefully bringing repeat business, and nearly eliminates the need for damage claims, which saves a lot of customer service time.
That said, there will always be customer service needs when conducting business: questions to answer, offers to respond to, thanks to kind words, and problems to solve. I would say that about 5% to 10% of our business time is spent dealing with customer inquiries and needs. With around 80 orders per week, there is almost always something to tend to, yet it is fairly minimal. Mostly people want to know the tracking number for their order and when it will arrive. The post office is usually very reliable, yet around once or twice a month a package is held up in transit for several days (seemingly for no reason), and the postal service must be “nudged” online to get it moving again and delivered.
Most customers are understanding, yet some are not, and focus their frustrations on the shipper rather than the delivery company. It takes effort and kind words (even if the customers are angry, disrespectful, and sometimes irrational) to massage the situation until they receive their order. Constantly thanking them for their purchase, reminding them that things are likely OK (just late), and that their order will eventually arrive, thanking them for their patience and understanding, and extending hope that they will truly enjoy their neat item(s) when their order arrives. Basically being a hands on person, empathizing with them, and responding exactly as I would like to be responded to when I order something and it doesn’t arrive promptly.
Good customer service starts at the top and definitely can be taught! In simple terms, good customer service to me means going the extra mile to treat someone (especially a tough case) with promptness, friendly words and respect, just as I want to be treated when I have customer needs with a business. Think of it as the Golden Rule taken to a greater degree: go the extra mile to help someone out and make them happy. Most people will appreciate the effort, understand the situation, and end up with a good taste in their mouth.
For instance, when I am out of a product that someone orders, I not only refund the entire amount they paid for an order, but I also refund back an extra dollar or two as a sign of goodwill. This gesture is a very incidental business expense, and the surprise of proceeding that way is most welcome, and frequently has brought in additional business. It has also helped build a good reputation, which is worth more than any sale or product.
I am a much better seller and employer now than I was years ago, and it takes going through some fires to gain experience. Not getting jaded and frustrated at the nearly constant needs of customers is important; it is so much easier (and less stressful!) to simply accept that customer service needs are an inherent part of most any business. I have found that handling them in a prompt, polite, and complete fashion is the best way to proceed, and I believe my service has caused me to enjoy a decent name recognition as well as a nice base of repeat customers. It is a shame that good customer service seems to be an exception rather than the rule today, yet when a business offers it, they can definitely stand out from the crowd because of it.
Finally, there will always be some folks who are difficult cases, that won’t be pleased no matter what. As in my personal life, I do my best to stick with the winners and minimize my interaction with those who seem perpetually unhappy. In business, if I sense someone (before a sale) is very particular or may be high maintenance, I block their ability to buy from me, which steers them in other directions.
To some this may seem like a short sighted effort, and it, of course, may have robbed me of a quality customer here and there, yet I feel it has also saved me a LOT of hassle on the back end of things. The time not spent dealing with tough cases can be put towards offering more quality collectibles and making up for it that way. Plus my happiness quotient is higher, and I get to deal with a base that is most of the time truly pleased to do business in a fulfilling, friendly, and fair manner. I’m pleased to say that I’ve got great customers, and I believe that 99.9% of people are really good! They simply want what they want, and quickly. So if I’m selling something they’d like, I do my very best to make that happen, then everybody’s happy!
I think there are plenty of takeaways from the above illustration of business ethics and drive for satisfaction. We see that customer service drives the business, that promptness and communication are key to the livelihood of the owner. As Rick said, his entire job is customer service! This includes almost every action he takes to ensure needs have been met.
Rick defined service in his actions: using kind words, empathizing, constantly communicating, doing more than is expected, all things we have covered in previous articles which have inspired my own success. We see that service to others in business has a direct correlation to limiting stress in other aspects. Having focus on what we can do to help others has helped us!
We also see that customer service is more than metrics, and is in actions starting with those at the very top! By living this lifestyle, we lead by example for those we work with, creating teachable opportunities with every interaction. By having these skills, his business and reputation have excelled and reached a much larger audience than ever imagined.
The measuring stick here is both in individual interaction and by business metrics. As stated above, we see that many people are satisfied with the handling of their transactions as if they were the only customer. At the same time, Rick uses metrics to supplement the individual situations as those transactions are the basis for all future transactions, not numbers alone.
Finally, we are left with some great suggestions on how to better our lives in service:
- Be polite
- Promptly assist
- Do more than is expected
- Make an effort
- Be the exception
Rick has a great sense of building relationships with people, and has provided me with much needed guidance over the years. Thank you, Rick, for your contribution to this blog. I look forward to seeing your further success!
To see Rick’s available items, please visit his links below:
Facebook – www.Facebook.com/BuffaloCinderellas