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

The art of the win-win situation. Why you need to be your vendors' best customer.

As I get involved with more businesses and, in particular, with individuals who are working on my teams it has occurred to me that their are several business axioms that are very important to me and should be to all of my team members. One of those axioms is always finding a win-win situation.

In basic terms this means that everyone who is involved with a transaction should “win” when that transaction is complete. For instance, if I’m selling my house, at closing we should have a win-win-win-win situation. My house should be sold at a price I was willing to accept, the buyer should have a house that was accurately represented, and that they’re happy with, the realtor should be reasonably paid for her services, and the mortgage broker should be paid for his. Everyone got what they wanted so everyone wins.

In business you occasionally have an unscrupulous salesman who will tell a prospect anything to get the sale. You may even have instances where a boss will go to his grave spouting “The customer is always right!” when in reality the customer was wrong and the employee deserved the boss’ support. However in my experience, the number 1 area people forget this win-win philosophy is when dealing with vendors.

It first became very clear to me that you always treat your vendors well when I was a paperboy. As a paperboy with 50+ papers to deliver, almost any time it rained you inevitably end up with a few wet papers. So you have some choices. You can wait for hours as you request the newspaper company to come replace your wet papers which would make the papers late – or you deliver them as is. Generally, as long as it was only a few papers and they weren’t destroyed, I chose the latter. Now out of 50 people, who do you give those few wet papers to? Certainly not the people who are nice to you, invite you inside when its cold, and give you a big tip. Why would you take the risk of upsetting them? No, you choose the people who are mean and cheap. For me personally, mean always trumped cheap.

In one instance, I recall a customer blatantly accusing me of lying and trying to cheat them by me asking them to pay more weeks than they owed. To this day, I’m 100% certain that wasn’t the case and even if I had made a mistake, accusing me of lying was something I took VERY personally. At that point, I would have preferred to just erase their debt and lose them as a customer. However, that wasn’t an option so, from then on, they became my only customer who mailed their checks to the newspaper directly. In their minds, the problem was solved. In reality, they now received every wet and late paper I ever delivered. Since I never had to confront them again to collect money, it made it very easy for me. After all, someone had to get the late and/or wet paper, why not them?

In the “real world” of business this has rung true for me more times than I can possibly remember. As a business consultant I travel a lot and have personally worked with nearly 100 business owners. Without a doubt, a few jump out in my mind as people who have treated me exceedingly well. One client in New Mexico made a point of always taking me out to the most fancy restaurants and putting me in nice hotels. He probably spent a few hundred dollars extra per trip that he didn’t “need to.” He was also one of the only customers who always paid me with a check in full before I walked out the door to fly home – a check that he guaranteed was as solid as oak. With those 2 actions, he endeared himself to me and my boss. In return, everyone on his staff had my cell phone number and felt very comfortable using it because I made sure to always help them as soon as I possibly could. He treated me better than any other customer and so, without giving it much thought, I did my best to provide the absolute best service for him.

Personally, I work hard and enjoy “living well.” My living style is anything but “cheap.” My father recognized this and so pointed out “that the quickest way to increase profits is to cut expenses.” If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. However, there’s a limit.

One out-of-state client I worked with happened to be located very close to a handful of friends and the university I attended. Because of that, I got to know them exceedingly well and routinely stopped by their office to make sure everything was going alright. I never charged for any of these services and in exchange received some free water (total value of the water was about $200 and at that point 2 hours of my time was worth that so they were WAY ahead on the deal). They had my cell phone number and used it when they needed and I helped as I could. Quite literally I spent more time with them than any other customer, including my father’s business, for several years. In one instance, I was visiting their office and emailed the General Manager ahead of time indicating that on this trip I’d stay with friends so all he had to worry about as far as travel expenses was my mileage for me to get there. When we spoke on the phone he agreed. When the owner of the business got the bill and learned that while visiting that customer I also took time while I was in the area to sell my house, he refused to pay. The house was sold 3 days before I even showed up in the office and because of that it allowed me to be in their office bright and early at 8am instead closer to noon if I would have driven directly to their office that morning. We’re talking about probably less than $200 (I can’t even remember the exact amount). Easily less than I had saved them by staying with friends for a few nights. So I spoke with the owner who happened to, at one time, be the CEO for a large international organization and apparently a staunch believer in “cutting expenses is the fastest way to increase profits.” I emailed the owner a copy of the emails that the GM had received and clarified that I told him ahead of time about the expenses and the GM had agreed. The GM lied and said that was not the case and the owner refused to pay saying that my emails didn’t matter since he had to backup his GM. Before this event, I would have considered this owner to be one whom I respected nearly the most out of all of the owner’s I had dealt with. In the end, my boss allowed them to not pay (though my boss did still pay me) and I felt cheated and taken advantage of. Over 3 years later and I still will not take a phone call from them and refuse to work onsite in their office again. I have no time to deal with unprincipled behavior and the money I could make by continuing to work with them would never be worth it.

I have dozens of stories to further illustrate this point – from the gentleman in Massachusetts who sends me cheese every year for Christmas, to the owner in Texas who forgave me when I billed him too much for gasoline. The people who have treated me the best, have received priority service. That is how it should be. Always treat your best customers the best. This also means that, your vendors should consider you one of their best customers for you to receive the best service.
This is NOT true for most businesses. In most businesses, the customer who screams the loudest receives the most attention. The employee who causes the most trouble receives the most attention. This irritates me to no end because it honestly makes no sense. If you want to bring ethics into the picture you could even argue that its unethical to treat superior customers as anything less than superior. In essence, it’s not “fair” to treat them as anything less. Criminals are treated as criminals. War heroes are treated as war heroes. Superior customers deserve to be treated as superior customers.
When you treat your vendors poorly, you will always lose. I know of businesses where particularly difficult customers will literally get billed EXTRA for being a pain in the butt! I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

So the lessons I’ve learned from all of these and many more experiences that every one of my team members should understand are:

  1. When dealing with vendors, paying the least amount of money is NOT always getting the best deal.
  2. In every situation, every party involved should have a “win” and be very excited about doing business with you again. If not, rework the deal.
  3. You give your best team members (employees) and best customers your absolute best service.

As for #3, most business people have probably learned the 80/20 rule where the top 20% of your customers generate 80% of your profits and the bottom 20% of your customers generate 80% of your problems. After going through the situation with the client who refused to pay my mileage, I told my boss I could care less if we lost them as a customer and I sincerely meant it.

I’m not the only one who thinks this way as Brad Sugars talks about “grading your customers” and getting rid of those customers with a D or lower and possibly even those graded with a C. Literally sending them a letter indicating you will no longer serve them and offering some suggestions for who may. He has personally owned over 50 businesses and claims this is true for every business in every industry.

A few years back Sprint sent notices to thousands of their customers that they had 30 days to find a new cell phone company because Sprint would no longer service them.

Marcus Buckingham talks about how one of the “rules” that should be broken is always spend the most time with the people who need the most help. Instead, he says that you will always reap a greater reward by spending the most time with your best people.

Admittedly, when I was 16 years old running my paper route, I hadn’t read any business books or had anyone teach me that you treat your best customers the best. It just seemed to be common sense. If that’s the case, then why do so many businesses I visit spend so much time taking care of their worst customers and employees instead of finding new ways to serve their best customers and employees?

If you’re ever lucky enough to work with me, make sure you remember these lessons. 😉

To your success, Bryan