What Happened to Customer Care?
Is customer care, real customer care, a thing of the past?
Do you remember a time when companies called you back quickly? When professionals treated their work as an art form and really knew what they were talking about. When you had that feeling that the person you were dealing with did actually care about you and your needs.
I hear these questions and concerns, again and again from people I come across. They make me pause and ask myself…Does true professionalism still exist? Do companies really care about us anymore?
Customer Care and Actually Caring
Just a few days ago I was at the home of one of our water treatment clients. Before leaving we ended up striking a conversation about customer care and customer service. She (we’ll call her Michelle) had complimented us on how quickly we had gotten back to her when she had contacted us and how thorough and attentive we had been throughout the entire process.
Whenever a customer pays me a compliment like this I take it to heart. “Reflections” such as these truly mean a lot to me as a person, as a professional, and to us as an organization.
Since we are a rather small company striving for this type of customer relationship is a very large part of what has built our business over the past century.
Professionalism and Work Ethics
Michelle proceeded to tell me about something that happened to her and her family recently.
She and her husband had a representative from a home improvement company come to their home to discuss replacing many of the windows and doors in their house.
The salesman/estimator ended up being there for many hours.
According to Michelle he was very informational, personable and took a lot of time with the both of them to explain what he could do for them. After much discussion and information gathering, they left it that he would be putting together options and a proposal then getting back to Michelle and her husband in the next couple of days to discuss possible next steps.
Can you guess what happened next?
He never even bothered to get back to them! No phone call, no email, no text- nothing.
To invest all that time with someone and not so much as even a simple follow up with them after everything…amazing!
After finishing the story, Michelle proceeded to summarize her feelings about the work ethics of many of today’s businesses. “I don’t understand how our state and our country could supposedly be in such a horrible economy, when companies can afford to not even bother calling you back, especially since it happens all the time.”
Examining the CARE part of Customer Care
I recently came across these thoughts about customer care on ahfx.net. The article was titled Earning Customer Loyalty.
“…we’ve all learned that just going through the motions doesn’t really win anyone’s loyalty. It is the why that is important, not the how. Truly caring about whether your customers have a good experience will lead to these things and many more. Caring will push you to go the extra mile and find the exact thing that will influence that specific customer.”
The article goes on to say that “We must start realizing that the desire to please the customer and help them with their individual problem is the key to customer loyalty (instead of some simple checklist we go through so that we can get more sales). Customer loyalty begins with our showing that we have a desire to help them overcome any problem in our area of expertise.”
Many years ago, when I began my professional career, I remember one of my very first managers giving me advice that would have a profound and long-lasting impact on my future. It would change everything I thought I knew about running a business and dealing with customers.
He told me;
“Take yourself out of the equation.”
“Stop thinking about your needs or the company’s needs. Forget about the money and making a sale. Place yourself completely in your customer’s shoes. How would you feel if you were that person and this representative were in your home, dealing with your family?
How would you want to be treated? What would make you feel as though this person had your best interests at heart? What would make you TRUST this person and want to do business with them?”
To say that these questions would shape the rest of my professional life would be an understatement. They would become the very fiber of what I believe in, and in my opinion, the real key to long term success in business.
Is Customer Care Profitable
I know that at this moment there are probably sales managers, business owners or maybe even executives reading this saying “That’s all nice and warm & fuzzy but you have no idea what’s really involved in growing a business or a company being profitable.”
I’m not foolish enough to think you can run a company alone on how your customers feel about you or how well you treat them.
Running and growing a successful business is a tough job. Competition can be brutal. Profit margins usually run slim. Hours are long. Just managing employees can be a complex nightmare in its own. Running a business is not for the faint of heart, especially in our current economy.
Short Term Thinking
The problem with the lack of customer care in today’s business world, in my humble opinion, lies in the fact that most businesses view customer service as an unnecessary cost and time investment they can’t afford. Very few see it as way of life for their company-as an invaluable investment for tomorrow.
I also think that for a lot of businesses, when it comes right down to it, they truly don’t care that much to begin with. Or, If they did care at one time, most likely the difficulties of daily business squeezed a good chunk of this carring right out of them.
They may at times talk a good game and paint a beautiful picture of how they take care of their customers, but do they really show it? Do they prove it with their actions, big and small, time and time again?
In my personal experience and by listening to the stories I hear from other people, the answer is quite often NO.
It almost seems like most companies today are so hyper-focused on what is happening RIGHT NOW in this very moment. No long term thinking.
I wonder what would happen if instead they started thinking more about investing in the relationships they have with their current customers- started thinking about the long-term results of those “right now” moments.
I wonder what customers might say about them?
Living in Maine, I can honestly tell you that it really is a small world. It seems like you can’t go anywhere without bumping into someone you know or meeting someone who knows someone you know.
Believe me when I tell you…we Mainers love to talk!
For businesses here in Maine, and in other states, I think this truly has both an immediate and long-term effect on their success. Word of mouth is and has always been the most powerful form of marketing.
- Good word of mouth can nurture and grow a company’s long term success, if its allowed to mature naturally.
- Bad word of mouth can SINK A SHIP…quickly!
Of the companies I have seen come and go over the years, those who have truly cared about their customers at a deep level (in addition to running sound businesses) have been the ones that have lasted the longest and done the best.
Maine companies like LL Bean have built their businesses rooted in knowing how to care for their customers, not just here in Maine, but all over the world.
From the very start they knew that how they treated their customers today would drastically affect how their company grew tomorrow. They built their reputation by following this philosophy.
They knew that if their customers felt as though they were truly cared for and were receiving a quality product or service; they would come back again and again. They knew how to earn their customers loyalty. They knew how to earn their trust.
I don’t feel that this is an outdated way of business. Just a mostly forgotten one.
I get the feeling that for many people out there today, especially for those born in the 70s or earlier, there’s a strong longing for this kind of personal care. I think people who remember what it was like to experience this type of customer service far outnumber those who don’t.
I imagine those same people would love to be able give their business to a company that makes them feel as though their loyalty were valued and that they were truly cared for.
I think most of us, at any age, just want to feel important. We want to feel valued. We want to know that what we think and feel are important to someone else.
So let me finish this long-winded article (thank you for your patience, by the way) by asking a few thought provoking questions:
- When was the last time a company’s employee or owner made you feel that you were more than just a customer? Did that encounter change the way you looked at that company and how you would do business with them in the future?
- What if focusing on the other person was the first thing we did in every encounter we had? How would it affect our personal and professional lives and the lives of those around us?
- What if more businesses today truly lived by this type of old school philosophy? I wonder where our country might be today if they did.