Be an Ethical Entrepreneur, Marketer, and Business Builder

Customer loyalty isn’t about your product – It’s about your PEOPLE…

When I work with small businesses nearly coast-to-coast one thing we do is collect and review testimonials from customers. What I’ve learned from this exercise is that your customers will become fiercely loyal and gladly recommend you primarily because of YOUR PEOPLE, not your products…

Here’s a quick sample of actual testimonials:

Our service guy goes above and beyond the call of duty.

The girl in the office makes me feel like she knows me.

Our rep doesn’t try to sell us stuff we don’t need.

Our service man is wonderful – wouldn’t change him ever!

Or how about, “We love their business because they have such great personalities.

I didn’t make that last one up! It’s a real testimonial that we received for a small business.

You mean people are choosing their vendors based on the personalities of that vendor? Yes! Believe it or not, people want to do business with other PEOPLE!  In case you haven’t noticed, these days in the USA we aren’t real fond of doing business with our government or big corporations.

Now keep in mind, if the product or service you promised to deliver is sub-par, then you have a problem. If the customer enjoyed working with your people, chances are very high they’ll give you the opportunity to fix the problem. If not, good luck.

However, if you deliver just what you told them you would, or a little more, then it’s your people who will turn those regular customers into raving fans. Once they have your product or service there’s virtually nothing else to set you apart from everyone else who provides a product or service for them. You said you would deliver X, you delivered X, and the transaction is over.

Let’s look at a dramatic example…

The banking industry has some of the highest retention rates of any industry bordering on 90% retention of customers. You’re much more likely to get divorced than to change banks once you get married.

But, believe it or not, it’s not the free checking, savings account interest rates, or debit card rebates that get people to stick with a bank…

My mother got married when she was 19 and moved 1500 miles across the country to do so. She was in a new area and didn’t know anyone aside from my father and his family. In those first 6 years of marriage she had 5 children and guess who were often some of the first people to meet her new babies?

The tellers at the bank!

Sounds crazy, right? But in the days before direct deposit, every 2 weeks she’d have to go to the bank to deposit a paycheck and every time she’d see the same ladies. They obviously would chit-chat about her current child or the one on the way and what women don’t love to see cute little babies?

The point is, to this day, nearly 30 years later, she couldn’t tell you a darn thing about the programs or services or interest rates of that bank, but she remembers the tellers AND the bank.

If your business has any sort of regular interaction with your customers (and it should if you have recurring revenue) then the same can be true for you.

Here’s how:

  1. Provide great service to YOUR team members – One of the keys to great employee productivity and retention is if they, “feel like someone at work cares about me as a person.” Call it touchy-feely, but I’m an engineer and if the science didn’t back it up, I wouldn’t point it out.
  2. Collect testimonials and reward people for doing so. Not only does that show how important happy customers are to you (actions speak louder than words) it’s actually very uplifting and exciting for the people gathering the testimonials. They’re also a great marketing tool.
  3. Track customer complaints. Review each one of them, immediately resolve the problem, and review with your team what happened and how we can prevent it from happening again. If you care about mistakes being made, they will too.
  4. Develop a great small-business culture. The advantage to your customer in dealing with a small business is that they get to deal with real, local people and not bureaucracy. The same needs to be true for your team. If they have an issue, question, or suggestion they need to feel comfortable talking to the head-honcho. To do so, each of your team leaders needs to have regular reviews with their team members at least twice a year but ideally every 90 days. Separate those reviews from pay. The goal is to build a relationship between the 2 parties, not to bash someone.

To truly develop a team culture that promotes great service, you need to do a bit more homework. You are welcome to contact me and I’ll show you how to transform your small business culture.

Or read the following books and try to implement the changes on your own:

To your success fostering loyal customers, Bryan

Improve employee teamwork by picking a fight!

Ok, I didn’t exactly pick the fight on purpose… It just sorta happened because in my normal read-a-book-and-instantly-implement-a-great-idea method I didn’t bother to inquire of the team what they thought…

Anyway – maybe I was a bit over-excited about Sam Carpenter’s suggestion about PTO (Paid Time Off) in his book, Work the System… After all, as I stated before, that single idea was worth reading the entire rest of the book (yes, including his hippie woodstock stories). So why didn’t my team love the idea as much as me??? Did I present it wrong? Not explain it well enough? Not review the benefits clearly? Possibly I should have asked them to participate in the decision to implement PTO to improve team buy-in…

Possibly all of those… Or possibly none of those… Actually, it doesn’t really matter to me why they hated the idea. Let me explain.

First off, PTO is simply paying someone immediately for their vacation and sick time so they don’t have any “accumulated” sick or vacation days. In other words, if you pay someone $10 per hour, they earn 40 hours of vacation per year, and you pay them bi-weekly (26 times per year) then each paycheck will include a PTO Earned bonus of $15.38 (40/26*10). That means that they earn 1.538 hours of Paid Time Off per paycheck and multiplied by their hourly rate of $10 they have earned $15.38 hours of “vacation” that I paid them for immediately.

For my business, I loved the idea for a few reasons:

  1. Since people are paid ahead of time and generally aren’t great savers, the chances they can afford to leave the office and take a 2-week vacation all at once are pretty slim. When someone who is an integral part of the business takes such a long vacation all at once it hurts the business, stresses the team, and our customer complaints instantly go up. In theory I thought PTO would take care of that.
  2. We offered Sick/Personal days as part of a perk. That always seemed silly to me… How can I know how many Sick/Personal days a person will need at the beginning of the year for that year? And if they don’t “need” any then people feel obligated to take them which negates the whole point of a Sick/Personal day. It’s not meant as a day to just use even when you’re not sick since you have it available. With PTO if they take off a day, they don’t get paid since they were already paid ahead of time… So according to Mr. Carpenter, in his office absenteeism dropped 80%. Makes sense to me.

Lucky for me, the Team Building exercise the week after I implemented the PTO was a review of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team as taught in the book of the same name by Patrick Lencioni. Part of that was a review of the first rule being, “an absence of trust”. Without getting too caught up in the lessons of that book, one idea is that a team that trusts each other is not afraid to “argue” and bring up points of disagreement. It’s important that everyone brings up any frustrations or varying point of view during meetings so that an open debate can ensue and everyone knows that their opinion matters. That allows everyone to then buy-in to the final decision discussed whether they originally agreed with that or not. You see where I’m going with this?

I implemented PTO unilaterally. Some team members hated the idea and several others were indifferent. No one was on my side. :-/

So we hashed it out. I let everyone speak their mind and then I explained the 2 reasons listed above that were important to me as benefits that PTO provided. I then asked them to give me a better program or system for allowing the above 2 goals to be met without PTO. So they did. They suggested to adopt as policy that no one could take off 2 weeks of vacation at once and that no 2 people in the same department could take off a week of vacation each back-to-back during peak season. They also suggested that we just ditch Sick/Personal days altogether. Seriously – I never even hinted at that. Someone suggested it and I verified with everyone that, that was acceptable. Everyone agreed. 🙂

At any rate, we no longer have PTO, however we don’t have to worry about someone taking off 2 weeks in a row and we won’t have a problem with someone abusing sick/personal days. Moreover, the whole team made that decision together as a team so everyone bought-into the new policies and felt better about being able to reason with the Team Leader…

Maybe implementing PTO, even for its short-lived glory days of 1 week, was actually a brilliant idea… 😉

To your success, Bryan