Amaze The Customer

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Anyone who knows me, knows that I LOVE Costco because of the friendliness of their employees, excellent pricing, quality of products and return policy. Costco has consistently delivered amazing service for years!

I am going to tell you a secret fundamental to business success. Actually, it’s not a secret because we all already know about this principle. Truth is, we have been carrying it with us since childhood but because we’re all so busy, we’ve forgotten how critically important it is. Remember The Golden Rule? You know, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”? As humans, we desire mutual respect and, sometimes, even to feel special. The great “secret” we’ve neglected is service. That’s it!

When was the last time you received amazing service? I’m talking about what we’ve come to consider “above and beyond” service? Thinking of that interaction, would you return to the business because of how you were treated? Did you rave about your experience to someone else? Mediocre service is so commonplace that a company providing good service stands out. A company providing amazing service will dominate its competition.

Amazing service allows a company to gain and maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. It’s service that makes customers regulars. Excellent service turns clients into advocates—true raving fans.

Too often, companies make the critical mistake of separating customer service from marketing. Customer service is a company’s greatest marketing plan. Stellar service leads to brand loyalty, word-of-mouth marketing, and increased sales. Effective marketing begins before the first advertising dollar is ever spent.

The most powerful marketing campaign begins with the creation of internal systems allowing for the delivery of amazing service, consistently. Once these systems have been established and are ingrained within the company culture, only then should an external marketing plan be crafted.

Consider the diagram below. Companies often begin with External Marketing, having ignored the foundation required for an external marketing plan to thrive: Amaze The Customer.

Why do so many companies fail to deliver great service? There are a number of reasons, the most common being investing a disproportionate amount on the “what” and not nearly enough on the “why.” Generally, established companies concentrate on product far more than consumer experience. Of course high product quality is imperative, but how the customer feels while engaging with the company is as important. This is true regardless of the product.

Why do I think this way? I was raised on the small Caribbean island of Antigua; the son of parents who were hoteliers by day and managers of a five-star French restaurant by night. Despite the hotel being 15 minutes from the beach and, having been built in the ’50s, lacking modernity, occupancy was consistently high. We saw repeat guests year after year.

In 1987, the hotel was sold. The new owner, who believed that facility upgrades would garner higher profits, didn’t know the secret and by 1990 the hotel was shuttered. After over 30 years of strong business, the hotel closed because the new ownership lacked something that my family had figured out from the onset: treat people better than they expect to be treated. Having been born into hospitality, I adopted a philosophy that would apply to all of my business ventures: “It’s not our job to please the customer…it’s our job to amaze them.”

Let’s apply the same principle to a more tangible product: stationery. Because we know the secret, we know that profitability is not solely determined by high sales volume. If a stationery company allowed its employees to exceed expectations by promoting a culture of service and became a customer service company that happened to sell stationery, sales would improve. If people were treated better than expected, especially when purchasing something like stationery, the customer base would grow. Guaranteed.

Corporations spend thousands of dollars to gain competitive advantage through means of advertising involving slick design, memorable slogans and commercials that stir emotion. Though these are valid ways of attracting customers, ask anyone who has been on hold for more than five minutes with ‘customer service’ where that company should be investing their money—advertising or customer service—and you’ll remember that customer retention starts with corporate culture.

The irony? Our greatest opportunity to impact profitability costs absolutely nothing; choosing to invest time, resources, focus and dollars elsewhere could potentially cost us everything. Let’s choose to amaze the customer.

This post was published in the June 2013 issue of Greater Charlotte Biz magazine by James La Barrie

About James

James La Barrie is passionate about marketing and changing a company's service culture. Originally from the Caribbean island of Antigua, James melds his approach of marketing and delivering elite service together as one. James has injected his 'service marketing' approach throughout his career to transform companies from good to great.


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