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It is no secret — business is getting tougher these days. It is difficult if not impossible to raise prices enough to compensate for rising costs; and as if that weren’t enough, today’s demanding customers will defect to a competitor at the slightest provocation.
OK, the security business isn’t all sweetness and light, but not to worry — many (most, really) of your competitors have yet to recognize something that you don’t ever want to forget: Security is a people business. Security professionals sell their services to people, not to objects. Whether it is a complete security system or just a little design advice, success depends directly on the satisfaction of the person on the receiving end of the transaction. All the business school expertise in the world is no substitute for an understanding of that basic business principle.
Here are eight important ways to help you acknowledge the value of each of your customers, keep them coming back for more…and leave your competition in the dust:
1. Take action on those things that most of your competitors only talk about.
It is sad but true: The principles that separate successful and profitable businesses from the also-rans have been well known for decades. There’s nothing magical about them — they are easy to learn and even easier to put into effect. Still, they go largely ignored by the majority of business owners. These days, it has become popular to bundle up some of those old business philosophies in new clothing and present them as original, innovative business techniques.
Forty years ago, management consultants were exhorting business owners to excel in customer satisfaction, just as they are today. Then, as now, only a small percentage heeded that valuable advice and went on to reap the rewards. The majority simply nodded in agreement while giving little more than lip service to the subject. Many of your competitors are making that same mistake today.
As you know from your own experience, it is a pleasure to do business with a company that has made customer satisfaction its top priority because it is fun to be around people who enjoy their work.
Of course, it is even more fun to look at an operating statement with a healthy bottom line. Make sure that you take action on the following management techniques — things that most of your competitors only talk about.
2. Take the time to listen to your customers; make sure that you’re providing the satisfaction they expect.
Successful security professionals take nothing for granted when it comes to their most valuable assets: their customers. There are a number of ways to find out how well you are doing in that department. The best ones involve asking customers themselves how they feel about your services. Telephone or mail surveys of random samplings of customers are the easiest and most popular way to stay tuned in to their attitudes. Whatever satisfaction survey method you choose, stick with it. Once you establish a program for evaluating your customer satisfaction efforts, install that method as a permanent part of your operating procedures.
3. Remember that people do business with people they like.
If you and your employees are highly skilled but working in a clinically detached manner, you are overlooking one of the easiest ways to keep your customers coming back for more. Worse, you are ensuring that you will have to replace many customers who would otherwise keep coming back and generating new referrals.
Many years ago, car salesman Joe Girard established a system for mailing what he called a “nice note” to each of his customers and prospects. Even when his mailing list grew into the thousands, Joe kept up with his mailing chores — and this was before computers simplified the task.
Did it pay off? Certainly. Girard is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the all-time automobile sales champion. In one year alone, he sold 1,425 cars. That’s an average of about four cars per day for an entire year. Should you be sending postcards to your customers now and then? It is an inexpensive way to keep in touch, and computers have made the job a lot easier than it was in Girard’s day.
4. Make full use of your customer database.
Are you capturing the full name and mailing address of each of your customers in a flexible database? If you aren’t, today is the day you should start. If you aren’t already using industry-specific software, setting up a database with inexpensive, off-the-shelf software such as Microsoft Excel, Access or Lotus Approach is far easier than it was just a few years ago. User-friendly interfaces and intuitive menus have made these programs easy to learn and use even for computer beginners. If you do not have the time or inclination to do the work, it is not difficult to locate a person or firm specializing in mailing list maintenance.
If you already have your own customer database, resolve to use the information it contains to help you with the critical job of staying in touch with your customers and identifying likely prospects for special promotions. Keeping your name in front of your customers reminds them that you appreciate their business. That, in turn, is an effective and inexpensive way to keep them with you.
5. Train every employee to be an important member of the Customer Satisfaction Team.
Your own understanding of the importance of customer satisfaction will be for naught if even one of your employees remains mired in the dark ages. Every employee should be made aware and continually reminded that “fixing” the customer is just as important as fixing the customer’s problem.
If you have been in business for a while, you have already seen your share of cases where the customer’s problem was resolved, but the customer was still unhappy. The most common cause of this potentially fatal malady is employees (or owners) who have allowed themselves to become isolated from the customer’s concerns. It is up to you to make certain that all of your employees understand that the ultimate goal of your combined efforts is a satisfied customer, not just a completed job.
6. When you make a mistake, own up to it.
Perfect business operations are found only in textbooks. In that regard, your business is like all others. You and your employees will make mistakes, fail to satisfy a customer, or fall short in some other way. There is probably no way to avoid such incidents in the demanding security business. What is important is not that things occasionally go wrong, but how these incidents are handled.
That’s why you should look on every error that you or your employees make as a valuable learning experience. Above all, don’t try to make your own problems your customers’ problems. Independent studies clearly show that customers whose complaints are resolved to their satisfaction often become better customers than they were before the incident that triggered the complaint. Additionally, you are probably well aware of the consequences of unresolved complaints.
7. Make sure that you treat the telephone as an important business tool.
Your customer’s experience with your business begins the exact moment that someone answers the phone. Train everyone in your organization who answers the phone to understand the importance of treating every caller with courtesy and respect. In particular, make sure that your telephone is always answered promptly. Never allow it to ring more than three or four times, and make sure that everyone identifies himself or herself by name in a cheery voice. Never leave a customer on hold for more than a few moments. Customer Satisfaction Audits, a commercial survey method, consistently show that leaving a customer on hold for more than a minute is one of the most certain ways to alienate the caller.
If you cannot find the information you need within a minute or so, volunteer to call the customer back. And ALWAYS call the customer back when you have promised to do so. Even if you haven’t been able to find all the information you need, don’t force the customer to wait for a call that never comes.
8. Don’t overlook your employees as a source of ideas to improve your operation.
No one is closer to your customers and their opinions than are your own employees. Acknowledgement and recognition are astonishingly powerful tools for gaining maximum benefit from employees. Workers who feel that their opinions are respected by their bosses are far more likely to make positive contributions to the business than those who feel that they are being ignored or patronized.
If yours is a small, independent operation, you don’t need a formal program. Just make it a point to ask your employees how they feel about things, how to improve the business, how to satisfy customers.
William J. Lynott is a veteran freelance writer who specializes in business management as well as personal and business finance. For more information, please visit www.blynott.com.