Taking Care of Business: A Customer’s Perspective
Over the last several years, office and work arrangements have shifted with a greater percentage of people working remotely and changes to workforce demographics. These arrangements can be beneficial to the worker and the employer. The worker gets the freedom of not having to commute every day, a more relaxed work environment, and (usually) the ability to structure work hours to fit lifestyle to some degree. Employers save on real estate costs and have access to a wider spectrum of the workforce, along with other advantages. It is a win-win for both sides of the equation. Until it isn’t.
The missing and most important third party in this equation is the “CUSTOMER.”
What does the customer care about most? In a word, “Performance.”
- Is the product or service what is needed, and does it meet specification?
- Can I trust the people who make commitments to me to honor them?
- Is their communication accurate and timely?
- Can I count on them to be there when I need them most?
These are the things that matter to the end user, the one who, by the way, pays the bills.
Each of these expectations are important, but perhaps the most important is being there when the customer needs you. “Being there” doesn’t quite express it completely. What I mean by that is; will you deliver when you said you will, and will it be as promised? Will you respond when I have a crisis? Will you go out of your way, above and beyond the call of duty, when I need you most? Can I count on you to deliver solutions and not excuses?
A few examples from personal experience …
- A furniture vendor left her home at 10:00 p.m., went to their warehouse to find a needed part for a field installation, and then delivered it to the installation site.
- A lead from one trade stayed overtime to help another contractor solve a problem, simply because it was in the customer’s best interest.
- A contractor’s field supervisor made a decision to pay overtime to his crew to ensure a mission critical deadline was met, even though it meant doing so without management approval.
- Probably the greatest example was a contractor’s PM who got out of bed at 3:00 a.m. on a holiday morning and pulled together an ad hoc crew to help a customer in a disaster situation, and they didn’t even have a current project on the books.
Now, the above examples are not the norm, but they are not unheard of either. Responding to them may be an inconvenience but there is an obvious sense of urgency to them that is more likely to spur action.
Taking care of the customer, however, isn’t just about emergencies. Organizations are most effective when they do it in the normal course of business, day in and day out.
- Making commitments and keeping them is an important starting point.
- Communicating clearly, as often as needed, and with transparency builds trust.
- Working that extra hour to solve a last-minute problem builds goodwill and credibility.
- Being prepared and on time for meetings demonstrates respect.
- When you are asked a question, answer it or let the person know when you will. “I’ll get it to you as soon as I can” isn’t an answer, it’s a delay tactic, one that leaves your customer empty handed. Worse yet, make a commitment, don’t honor it, and don’t seem concerned when they call.
The Customer’s Dilemma:
You may have never pondered this, but when a customer trusts you with a project or order, they are putting their job and career in your hands.
Let me repeat this for emphasis and clarity:
“When a customer trusts you with a project or order, they are putting their job and career in your hands.”
They represent you to their corporate leadership. Your performance either validates or invalidates their own character, commitment, and ability. The formula for gaining a customer for life is very simple, just deliver your service or product as specified, on time, and be a problem solver. Leave them stranded because it’s not your job or the hours are inconvenient, and the customer will move on to the next, more committed vendor.
Relationships are important, but the bottom line to the customer is that Business is Business.
To the Leader-Manager-Owner:
Every leader has a responsibility to set the tone of business. Leaders establish vision and nurture culture; and are responsible for how their organization lives up to those standards. When work ethic erodes because workers do not understand its importance, feel they have more important things to do, or simply do not exhibit initiative, then it is both a leadership and a worker problem. Tight employment markets and new worker attitudes are problems to be solved, not excuses to be made. Business, after all, is about solving problems and delivering value. It is not about failing to perform because someone is inconvenienced or doesn’t care.
Business can be fun, but it must support the customer with effectiveness and integrity.
All business is based on a simple progression: Relationship and integrity build trust, trust builds commitment, and commitment drives performance. Break the chain and you risk losing your customer.