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A FEATURED ARTICLE FROM

FEBRUARY 2003

Stubbornly Stupid Standing
Up for Your Right to be Wrong!

By John Lamade

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, etc.?

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.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

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 thin."

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 old customers!

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 your customers.

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 vital.
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 jlamade@msn.com. If you have a good story relating to complaints - either yours or from a customer's perspective - let me know!

TRAINING

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?

EMPOWERMENT

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 jlamade@msn.com.

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