Dave Kier writes regularly with all kinds of practical advice based on a successful career in the animal feed business in Iowa, integrated with a vibrant faith. The IBEC Board of Directors is the beneficiary of his wisdom, and we are blessed by him and all our board members. Here is a recent “Leadership Tip” from the heart and mind of Dave.
Larry W. Sharp, BAM Support Specialist, IBEC Ventures
In these “Leadership Tips”, we are addressing companies which are missional, that is; they exist to glorify the Lord by meeting needs in the marketplace. If we don’t wake up every day seeking ways to improve our testimony to the public by providing excellent products and services, we will miss the mark. In the marketplace are customers and potential customers. Customers buy from those who best meet their needs. Customers buy from those who care about their success. Anyone can provide a product or service, but not all can also provide a meaningful relationship. Meaningful relationships develop when there is contribution. Along with selling a product, we sell service, but we also bring along part of ourselves and our culture.
The wise company is one which is persistently expanding its knowledge of the customer and their needs. For example, we may seek to meet the customer’s needs by selling them feed we believe will allow their animals to be more productive, but though the customer may value this as well, the customer may as much or more value someone who comes alongside them helping them learn how to maximize their operation. Still, there is more to it than this, regardless the customers size.
We are in the people business first and foremost. Recall the “Golden Rule”? What is it we would value from a supplier? Someone to sell us something and walk away with a payment? Or would we more so place more value on a supplier who seeks to learn our business and how to help us add value to ourselves? We would place more value on this supplier who we learn to trust. If we are truly a business developed for ministering, then this trust will result in a relationship where we can meet the needs of the heart. We care for the whole person. For the customers I was responsible for, I wrote down all the personal information I could gather, such as spouse’s names, children’s names, birthdays, etc. Customer intimacy was my quest.
Almost all companies state slogans such as the “Customer is #1” or “We exist to serve the customer”. Our feed companies mission statement stated – “Our desire is to be an indispensable ally to the customer”. This began the unending quest to determine how to actually become indispensable. What we found was that as we provided better products, services, and knowledge to the customer, the customer grew and as they grew, they became more sophisticated. This meant we had to continuously improve ourselves. Such a dynamic is an enjoyable challenge.
Returning to the “Golden Rule”, we must serve the customer as we want to be served. This includes trust but trust is earned, and it is earned by continuously revealing our integrity. We want on-time service and so does the customer. In America, prompt customer service is taking a back seat as you call a service number to then be asked to listen to a litany of choices to punch on our phone. Now, in the name of saving cost “for the benefit of the customer”, fewer staff operate cash registers, causing customers to wait longer in line. Instead of the customer being #1 with many America corporations, #1 is their bottom line. Prompt, efficient, accurate service is what we all want and what we reward with our continued purchases. The bottom line for a company is our customers delight with our products and service. Our financial bottom line will take care of itself.
Another weakness in many businesses both big and small, is pathetic problem solving. We want immediate help from someone who cares about us and values our time. All too often by the time a customer complains, there has been a re-occurring problem he or she has been dealing with for some time. We can also be assured that if one customer complains, there are others who have the same complaint but are silently walking away from doing business with you. Take every complaint seriously, and better yet, constantly put yourself in the customer’s shoes as you examine how you can do better. A company of excellence anticipates and solves issues before they arise.
A final comment on customer service; you can’t improve what you don’t measure. This is also true at the customer level. The customer may not know best how to measure performance or satisfaction. In some businesses, customer satisfaction is hard to measure, yet there are ways to determine how satisfied the customer is doing business with you. I hate emailed surveys. They are so impersonal. Be it what we called “door traffic” from small buyers or sales to the largest customer who never walked through our doors, I made it a point to ask them how we are doing at serving them. You won’t know how you are doing until you ask. It takes a willingness to hear good news and bad news. Bad news demands an action on your behalf and a constructive means for making improvements. Such improvements are made and followed up on with the customer. By the way, when you hear good news, be sure to share it with the entire organization.
I learned years ago from another company the value of helping the customer properly determine how well they are doing with our product. I learned that assuming the customer knows isn’t wise. When there aren’t good methods for measuring performance, assumptions are made and that can become a problem, especially if there isn’t a bond of trust. Assumptions can be fickle. Solomon wisely said, “Know the condition of your flocks.” Know means to know, not assume. Good salespeople are good at asking questions as they probe to understand (to know) how well the customer is doing. Years ago, I developed a log of all our turkey customers’ flock performances. As one very large customer told me once, “You know more about our business than we do.” Accurate knowledge is powerful! Acquire knowledge of the customers as you improve your knowledge of how to better serve them.
Those of you in the ministry aspect of your business would be wise to consider your church attendees as customers, with the ultimate customer being the Lord. How well is your ministry doing at meeting the needs of the congregation? Do you have methods for helping your congregation grow spiritually? Are they effective? How do you know? Living organisms grow. Dead ones do not. Is your church growing numerically and spiritually?
Making the customer #1 must not merely be a slogan but must be what drives your company towards excellence!