The Culture of the Customer

We often speak of customer service, customer care, "the customer comes first", and other terms that imply that the customer is the most important person in our business.  The customer pays our salaries.  The customer is king (or queen).  But are they really?

In this case there’s a very subtle difference between the "talk" and the "walk".  It’s a subtle difference, but it makes all the difference.  It’s best illustrated by an example. 

It’s Friday afternoon.  Your favorite supplier (hopefully Tacony Corporation) is offering a special on orders placed this week.  You’ve been busy all week (imagine that!) and you realize that you have to place an order before the end of the day.  To make it worse, you have plans for this evening and you’ve promised your spouse that you’ll be home on time for a change.  You decide to retreat to your office to get the order done and ask not to be disturbed.  Just as you’re in the middle of looking at the inventory and putting an order together, one of your salespeople comes in to your office and says there’s a customer who wants to see you.

This is where the rubber meets the road, as they used to say in the tire commercials.  There you are, surrounded by "The Customer is Number One!" posters.  You just had a rah rah sales meeting this morning where you hit very hard on the importance of every single customer. You feel like you have a customer-centered organization.  Now you have a choice.  Your response will tell everyone on the staff whether you mean what you say, or not. 

You have two choices.  One is to "walk the talk".  Set the order aside with a smile on your face and take care of the customer.  Show by your actions that all this "customer is number one" stuff isn’t just a bunch of posters and meetings that really don’t mean anything.  Make a statement, loud and clear, that you really are a customer-focused organization.

Or, you can respond, "Tell her I’m not here.  I told you I didn’t want to be disturbed.  I have to get this order done."  What does that say about your customer focus?  I think you know the answer.  It says it’s all just window dressing.  When push comes to shove, the customer really isn’t that important after all.  It says that paperwork is more important than the customer.  It says your personal life is more important than the customer. 

Of course life is never as cut and dried as this example.  In fact, most of the time it’s more about shades of grey than it is about black and white.  But the point is the same.  Are you showing you staff, by your actions, that the customer is really number one.  Do you give the impression that every customer is like gold, or do you sometimes send the signal that they’re really an interruption to your day?   Like I said, it’s a subtle difference.

If the place catches on fire, do you interrupt your demo to grab the fire extinguisher?  Of course you do.  If your service man grabs his chest and falls on the floor, do you excuse yourself from the customer to administer CPR?  No question.  But if you let a customer wait while you chit-chat with the UPS driver, then you’re sending the wrong signal to the staff and the customer. 

Actions speak louder than words.  Lead by example.  Walk the talk.  In the long run, it’s one the most important things you can do for the health of your business.

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