Up for Your Right to be Wrong!
February means that we are well on our way through 2003. This month's
theme is about training and service. The question you may have,
then, is why the title? How are stupidity and service/training related?
I guess that you must bear with me. Somehow, I will get on track.
When I sit down to write these articles, I usually spend several
days thinking about what would be of interest to you. I do some
research and gradually start assembling the article. This month
I started with the title and then wrote the article.
The title arose from the winter weather we have been experiencing
in Medina, OH. We have experienced both snow and cold weather. The
streets have not been well cleaned. On some days, they have been
dreadfully slippery; my van could neither stop nor turn left. It
just slid through intersections. The reason given by the city for
the poor condition of the streets is lack of funds. The taxpayers
did not approve a tax increase, and the mayor, in her infinite wisdom,
decided that snow removal was one of the things that the city could
do without. Is the mayor punishing the citizens of Medina for not
giving her more money?
One night as I was sliding across town, the title "Stubborn
Stupidity" came to mind as I cursed the city for its stubborn
refusal to clear the streets. Several very colorful and rude - potentially
slanderous - epithets came to mind as I crossed onto the wet, but
not slippery township roads, next to Medina. Then it hit me - no,
not another sliding vehicle - why not write about people and businesses
that persist in doing wrong even though they know they are wrong?
In short, why do people stand up for their right to be wrong?
Is there a right to be wrong? Is there an obligation to be right?
How can you tell the difference? This is all murky, but the clarification
here is that if you know you are wrong and stubbornly persist in
the behavior, then you can be seen as one entering the world of
the stubbornly stupid. Politically this can be suicide; I can't
imagine why anybody would vote for a mayor who refused to take care
of streets (but that is my opinion). In business, such persistent
adherence can be even more damaging.
United Airlines and Kmart could be listed as candidates for the
stubbornly-stupid award. Both appear to have willfully ignored their
customers. Battalions of consultants and customers told these two
to improve and shift their focus from excessive remuneration to
providing customers value. Will either company survive?
Naturally, individuals can be stubbornly stupid. Let's say that
you are a 50-plus-year-old sedentary male smoker and are 100 pounds
overweight. Knowing that you are a health risk, can you imagine
that a self-insured company might not want to add you to its ranks
because the risk outweighs the potential of bottom-line improvement?
If you had such employees, would you want them to change or help
them improve their physical condition? If you, the employee, knew
that all these risk factors were true, would you make the stubbornly
stupid stand and defend your right to smoke, overeat, never exercise,
Can a company or a person cast off their stubbornly stupid attitude
and attain a better posture with their customers? The answer is
yes. The answer is attitudes. In business you need to enshrine customer
service as the cornerstone of the business; this applies to both
companies and individuals.
This month, as I said earlier, I want to write about training and
customer service. As you can see, I have made a transition from
stubborn stupidity to customer service on both a personal and corporate
basis. Because we are now on more conventional footing, I will focus
on three success-building factors: service, training, and empowerment.
One of the gurus of customer service is John Tschohl who founded
the Service Quality Institute (www.customer-service.com)
in Minneapolis. If you are serious about providing superior service
and finding ways to measure your customer service performance, then
you really should learn more about the
Service Quality Institute.
Customer Service is the cornerstone of a successful business and
training is the cornerstone of customer service. This summary of
John Tschohl's philosophy sounds somewhat circular, but it does
answer two questions: what is the basis for a successful business
and how do you provide outstanding service? This sounds good, but
many might think that it is also difficult to learn. Luckily for
us all, these techniques are easily learned.
There are two types of customer service knowledge:
o hard or technical skills;
o soft or listening/understanding skills.
Most businesses think that hard skills are needed for customer
service, but the opposite is true. The real business of customer
service is issue resolution. The process of solving the problem
is more important than the technical solution. It is more important
to say, "Yes, we will help you with your problem," than
offering a technical solution like "Your clear coat is too
Almost everybody agrees that customer service is important, but
relatively few companies know very much about creating a service
culture in the company. One of the most common excuses for not paying
much attention to customer service is the belief that it is expensive
- more people would be required to handle customer service. This
isn't true. A customer service focus can actually increase profitability.
Most companies, according to the Service Quality Institute, lose
between 10 percent and 15 percent of their customers every year.
If you had a $2 million business, that's between $200,000 and $300,000
lost revenue per year. Now here's the shocker: Between 54 percent
and 70 percent of these customers can be recovered if the root complaint
was resolved. Increase your sales with new customers and retained
To succeed at customer service you must also remember this old
warning: If you do not take the necessary steps to satisfy your
customer, your competitors eventually will.
You can learn much about your company by the way you and your staff
deal with angry customers. There are many lists about how to deal
with irate customers. Since we have already mentioned the Service
Quality Institute, I will cite its eight-point list. Think of the
last time you attempted to solve an angry customer's problems. What
did you do? Did you get into an argument and threaten each other?
As you read through these points, ask yourself how you approach
1. Actively listen. Let the customer vent and let him
know that you are listening.
2. Empathize. Feel your customer's pain; make it yours.
3. Ask questions. Gain an understanding of what happened.
4. It's not personal. The customer is angry at the product/service,
not you. Do not take it personally. Minimize your emotional involvement
in the problem.
5. Identify the problem. The whole reason for this exercise
is to find out what made the customer unhappy as quickly as possible.
6. Assume responsibility for the problem. If it is the
company's problem, admit it and then work toward a solution.
7. Affirm commitment to customer's satisfaction. This is
8. Solve problem.
The foregoing sounds simple, but do you know how to complain?
Next time you have a problem try this technique:
1. Let the company know you have a problem. Only one in
26 customers bothers to report problems. If you press for a solution,
many people will benefit.
2. Don't be confrontational. In the section above we considered
the steps in dealing with a confrontational or irate customer.
Time was spent calming the person down. If you can eliminate the
emotions and finger pointing, you can move to a solution faster.
Give the facts, dates, and describe what happened, etc.
3. Be honest. If you made a mistake, admit it, and see
what can be done.
4. Communicate what you want and when you want the problem
resolved. Give a company about 10 business days to resolve
the problem, but be sure you indicate what you want the company
to do to resolve the problem. Make sure that the solution is reasonable.
5. If you are not satisfied, go up the line. Taking complaints
to company presidents can ensure fast results.
This is a first of sorts; I haven't seen too many comments about
how to complain in an article. We should explore this approach in
future articles. Send me your ideas about complaint techniques.
Send your e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a good story relating
to complaints - either yours or from a customer's perspective -
let me know!
Earlier I stated that customer service is the cornerstone of a
successful business and training was the cornerstone of customer
service. Training really is vital to your success. There are relatively
few people born with an innate sense of customer service. Most people
need to learn.
Training is more than just attitude and technique. It is a philosophy
that helps you perform better. Trained employees also feel better
about working for you. Employee loyalty increases because employees
feel that your investment in them indicates that you care not only
for the customer but for the employee as well. Everybody wants to
feel valuable and useful.
Some things should be obvious about training. Training should be
continuous. You can't train a staff once and expect the single outlay
will last for careers. Training should be continuous. The people
at the Service Quality Institute sell training programs. Here's
what they say a good training program should offer:
1. Programs should be fun and entertaining. You must gain
people's attention and then hold it.
2. Focus on fundamentals. Learn to solve customer problems
rather than technical details.
3. Program package should be attractive. Students should
feel good about their investment in the program, too.
4. Spend 80 percent of time in group interactions. Reinforcement
and experience enhance learning.
5. Enhance employee self-esteem. When people feel good
about themselves, they perform much better.
Your goal, of course, is to build a service culture. That sounds
awesome and scary, too, but a service culture is one in which you
and your staff will do whatever it takes to satisfy your customer.
Well, how do you get there?
The magic word in customer service is empowerment or trusting your
employees to make the "right" decision. When you can trust
your employees to do the right thing because it is the right thing,
you've reached a high-water mark. Rules and training can get you
to a point, but when an employee feels comfortable making a decision
without fear of retribution, and you support the decision, then
you have reached one of the most sought-after ideals: Quality employees
who care about customers and the business. That is a goal worth
seeking and attaining!
John Lamade has extensive experience in the marketing of detailing
products and is a contributing editor to Auto Laundry News. Contact
John via e-mail at email@example.com.