I ran across the old German adage, “The customer is king” while preparing for a university class I teach on innovation and entrepreneurship. While it is true that understanding the customer is much more complex than a generation ago, and the metaphor may be a tired one, it is increasingly accurate today.
Professor Robert C. Wolcott of the Kellogg School at Northwestern University points out that the king customer paradox reminds us that the customer drives the economy with his more and more access to products and choices; while at the same time increasing the competition, and invading our privacy. Consumer-focused companies respond to our desires while “…pursuing deeper insights into our location, preferences, even needs we didn’t know we had.”1 Such is the paradox of king consumer today.
My wife expects an Amazon package the next day after ordering it at bedtime the evening before, but she doesn’t like it that they know where we live, predict her preferences on the site and drool with anticipation as to what she might order. Yes, customer service has changed greatly in recent times, but at the same time it has not changed at all. Customers still want to be cared for.
In the last two months I had to change flights and rental cars more than once due to illness and death in the family. A stark contrast surfaced on one occasion when I needed to change my flight schedule. The phone attendant at the airline was polite and answered immediately; she forgave the $200 change fee due to the death circumstances and she was very helpful in finding me a new flight.In contrast, a major rental car agency did not respond to the phone in a timely manner, the line dropped two times and when there was a response, the agency gave a very curt reply and there was no possibility of waiving the change fee. And the cost of a new rental increased substantially.
Customer service is still just that – service – and owners and managers of business startups need to begin with principles which will be long lasting as they prosper and scale the business.
1. Provide consistent training on customer service and be sure that everyone in the company, from top to bottom, follows the same guidelines. Make expectations clear.
2. Meet with customers regularly in person or via survey to determine ways to improve. Do the same with employees, asking how they think customers can be better served.
3. Remind yourself and your staff that without customers you have no business. They pay your salary, which makes them king.
4. Use helpful comments with customers, such as “How can I help you?”, “I don’t know but I will find out.” (and actually do it), “I will keep you updated.” “I appreciate your business.”
5. Keep the customer front and center with friendly personal things like sending cards or notes on important occasions, keeping them in the loop on things important to them, always following up on a conversation. Explore ways to be more personal.
6. Listen to customer complaints and listen politely without excuses. Take responsibility and do what you can to resolve the problem quickly. Go the extra mile.
7. Give employees the right to solve problems – like one restaurant which allows the waiters to give a replacement plate if the customer is dissatisfied.2
1. Wolcott, Robert C. The King Customer Paradox: The More Empowered, The More We Lose Control, Forbes Magazine, 11 Apr. 2017.
2. 30 Ways To Show Your Customers They’re Always Right, Entrepreneur Magazine.
Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures