Customers are essential to any business.
Customers pay the bills. Without them, a business will cease to exist. What often separates an average business from an excellent business is how they handle their customers.
All of us have been customers, and as such, we have all dealt with poor customer service. It’s a frustrating process to pay money to a company that you feel has treated you poorly. When customer service is poor, it’s expected that the customer will eventually look to other providers for the services or products they need.
But the process of customer service can be tricky. It can be easy to make assumptions and take a customer for granted, even when it’s not your intent. Good customer service is not passive. It requires active management, a focus on continuous improvement, and an effort to provide on-going excellent service.
At my company, we recently dropped one of our largest service providers. In essence, we fired them. They weren’t doing a bad job. They did not screw something up. They did not make anyone angry or burn a bridge.
They just remained quiet.
We engaged this company more than 10 years ago to manage an important piece of the business. By our measure, they provided sufficient service. We did not experience any problems or issues.
But in a casual conversation with a business partner, we learned that during the past few years, the processes and offerings provided by this company had improved significantly in the marketplace. These enhancements also had the potential to significantly improve our business.
When we learned of this, we reached out to our provider and asked them why they never suggested or offered us the new and improved versions. We were curious why we had never been made aware of what was available, or why they had allowed us to fall behind.
Most importantly, we wanted to know and understand why their other customers, including our competitors, were receiving services and offers we did not even know about.
Their response? “Because you never asked, so we assumed you were happy with what you have always had.” That is when we decided to fire them and hire their largest competitor.
I have learned that customers expect a lot from my company, more than just what we are contractually required to provide. Our customers expect guidance and information. They seek our knowledge of products and services. They want to benefit from our networks and relationships. Our customers want to know how we can improve their businesses and make them more productive, more efficient and more money.
It’s easy to get comfortable with customers, especially long-term customers. It’s also easy to forget we have a responsibility to them as a business provider. We forget to communicate with them, to challenge them with new ideas, and to keep them informed. We forget why they hired us in the first place.
When we stay quiet with our customers, we neglect the communication channels we have worked so hard to establish in the past. This translates into a perceived apathy for them as a customer, which further translates into poor customer service. The result is typically the loss of the most essential element of any business; the customer.
A few days after we ended our business relationship with our previous service provider, one of their executives reached out and wanted to know why we fired them. We didn’t give them a reason. We will let them figure it out on their own. That’s a business philosophy they seem to understand.
Brian T. King is the founder and owner of multiple firms encompassing design, construction, real estate, and manufacturing, and currently president of the integrated Design-Build firm A M King. Brian shares his passion for mentoring young professionals, rising managers, and entrepreneurs at speaking engagements around the country, on podcasts, and via his blog.