Recently we surveyed our customers and asked why they chose to purchase from us. Some of them have stayed with our family business for its span of twenty-six years while others have only been with us for over a decade. Was it cost? Location? Product quality? Customer service? As a small business our niche is in custom manufacturing; yet we compete with an international economy where cheap mass production prices us out.
The Made in the USA didn’t matter so much. A few of our customers had left us to overseas competitors but they have since returned. Our product is able to ship faster, orders can be smaller quantities but most importantly; our fasteners always make the grade. Our customers get more bang for their buck overseas but receive an inferior product. But the answer that mattered the most, that was worth paying the higher price for, was our customer service. It is the relationship our customers have with our company that keep them loyal.
We shouldn’t have been surprised, but we were.
It is a familial joke when we consider my mother-in-law’s customer service voice. We always know when a telemarketer is on her phone or at her door; the flinty hard edge in her tone giving it away. But these usually are with personal matters and this side is rarely seen at the business she has ran for the past two-and-a-half decades. Now that she is retired she can use her customer service voice whenever it is warranted. My father-in-law is known for his no nonsense manner and, at times, the work relationship with his son is reminiscent of an episode of Discovery Channel’s American Chopper. Sometimes this rubbed customers the wrong way but my father-in-law was good at what he did; his reputation in the business stellar. He was always true to who he was and never sugarcoated or pulled the wool over any customer’s eyes.
I listened as my girlfriend recounted the aggressive stance a mutual friend took with a school administrator. There is a time and a place for belligerent, demanding behavior and the end result would have been the same whether someone was respectful versus rude. Intimidation makes no friends; only fear and resentment. As parents we should be partnering with our schools and staff; not pointing fingers or creating division. Our purpose is one and the same: creating safe environments for our children to grow and learn with respect. We must model the behavior we expect in return; the lesson I hope my sons will eventually learn. We, as parents, are their first teachers. We must embody customer service.
During my years in college I worked in a hospital staffing office to provide nursing for each department’s needs. I admired the woman who still holds this job, a well-liked Italian who could persuade even the grumpiest of nurses to come in and work on their days off. She begged and pleaded, shared stories of her three children and listened intently to all the little details others would share. She would take the angry words from disgruntled staff and, though she would bristle at times, never allowed it to show in her voice. When people were lost she would walk them to their destination; taking time away from her break or work to provide customer service. When angry families came through it would be she, who would calm them, hugging them as they grieved or vented. This was not in her job description and I could not perform any of these duties. It was her years of experience of being around people; that made her who she was.
As I looked over the survey results I began to sharpen my pencil; realizing that all my conversations, emails and communications contribute to our bottom line. The daily chit-chat can actually sway a sale and, though, I am no saleswoman, I can use my extroverted personality to build relations. When people call looking for something we cannot produce, I now make it a point to give them alternative solutions and phone numbers to call. I easily could hang up the phone and say We don’t do that here. But I then think of my former co-worker as she walked families to ICU or ER. A little can go a long way.
I am developing this skill of customer service in all areas of my life. We don’t really think the little things that we do and say in our lives matter. But in reality, it is these little details that embody who we really are.
I am learning to, once again, trust my intuition and observation skills as I sit amongst a large group of people. I had lost the ability to “read the room” in my busyness and self-centered life; choosing isolation and the safety of my four walls. I’ve quickly realized that my growth is dependent on inserting myself with others outside of my comfort zone. It is easy to isolate and remain safe; harder to stay true and put yourself out there. I can only be authentic when I stop and consider what I stand for; things like respect, truth, faith, health, family. Sometimes in life we get busy and forget who we are: mother, daughter, sister, co-worker, friend, wife; that our customer service skills of basic communication are lost. There are a few bridges in my life that I would much rather burn; but I know that I must mend the planks and leave the options open. You never know where life’s path will take you.
I, too, remain loyal to those companies and individuals who are transparent in their actions, works and words. Who stand by what they believe in, produce quality work and are interested in building relations versus tearing them down. I fasten my attention on this skill of customer service to build quality relationships. To grow.