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Big Business Thinking is Better Than Small Town Shop Behavior

I recently traveled back in time.  Or, rather, back to my perception of what time past was like.  And, I didn’t even need a time machine to do it!  What I learned is that big business needs to take some queues from their mom-and-pop counterparts because big business seems to think they don’t need customers these days, at least based on their customer service policies, as I’ve harped on in some prior posts.  (What can I say, I’m a harper, and not in the classical music kind of way!)

I time-traveled by simply driving from big-town Manhattan to small-town New Haven and ate breakfast at a seemingly un-special, ordinary restaurant called Patricia’s.  From the outside, in fact, it seemed there were only a few customers, and the only reason I went in was because it was the only place nearby, that wasn’t fast food, still serving breakfast at 11am on a weekday.

I ordered some eggs (which are delicious and cooked by Patricia herself) and then I hear her say to a customer at another table, 

it’s ok you can pay us next time.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Was I dreaming or in an alternate universe? She told me they were regulars. 

Wait,” I thought, “someone actually treats their LOYAL customers with respect, instead of just the new ones?”  As Patricia’s newest customer, this theory of hers, on its own, made me want to scream recommendations about her restaurant from the hilltops, tell everyone I know about it, and return should I ever be back in New Haven!

And now, for the harping!  (WARNING – there will be foul language that follows.)

Why is it only in small towns and businesses that we see this loyal customer kindness mentality?  I have to be honest, I am sick and tired of feeling punished for my loyalty.  On TV, the internet and in newspapers, I am confronted with “new customer deals” by utilities companies that I’ve been a loyal customer of for years!  Why are you dangling carrots in front of my face that I’m not allowed to eat???  Meanwhile, do I ever get a postcard in the mail, that even says, “THANK YOU FOR YOUR BUSINESS?”  Nope!  No gift, no discount, nadda, just the honor of paying higher rates.  It’s only if I call to complain about this seeming inequity that I have a shot of being treated better.  Even then,  I’m first told I’m not a new customer, and that when I was, I, too, got a good deal (as if I should be thankful for them having me as a customer, rather than the other way round!)  

Is the message big business wants us to infer that we’re better off being a new customer someplace else? Is the cost of implementing loyal customer programs really going to outweigh the profit?

Back at Patricia’s, I said I was impressed that she treated her loyal customers so kindly especially since so many large companies treat new customers better than loyal ones. I’m sure you’ve had your own crap experiences you can relate to that help you understand why we need more Patricia’s out there!

And, could someone please tell me, what the f&^k is the point of a damn customer satisfaction survey?  I have filled out countless of them. Moste frequently when I’ve just had the most horrid of experiences with a company.  I bomb them in the ratings, and explain why I scored them so low.  And yet, I don’t even get an email thanking me for my business with someone trying to set up time with me to address my concerns!  Perhaps the bad surveys end up with the bad nuts from the more recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film and only the good ones get any attention?  It seems to me, if you’re going to conduct a survey asking for feedback on your service, and you have no mechanism to follow up with the respondents, you’re making us feel under-valuedUnder-valued customers soon become someone else’s customer!

And, what about self-service?  First, let’s cut the bullshit, ok?  “Self-service” simply means something to the following extent, “Although we know some of our customers do enjoy the ease of being able to complete transactions anywhere, anytime, we know a lot of you hate it.  Unfortunately, we can’t pay our top executives a big bonus unless we cut down the number of people doing work our customers can be doing themselves.”

Now, ok, I’m very opinionated, I just hate shit-coating.  Let’s just call it what it is, rather than making this out to be a customer-focused policy.  And yes, for the customers that do like self-service, great, no gripe.  But, there are MANY customers that prefer a live voice, and hand-holding to searching FAQ’s in an endless sea of pages where terminology and keywords are not in their language.  How are you helping those customers, I wonder?

OK, enough complaining, let’s use the rest of this post for some constructive feedback.  Here are my suggestions for how ANY business can apply small-town values to increasing loyal, and satisfied, customers.

1 - Let’s start with treating ALL our customers as valuable.  If new customers get discounts, what can you offer loyal customers to thank them for their business?

2 - If you’re conducting a survey, asking people to take the time to give you feedback, you need to follow-up with them. If you don’t think you have enough resources (we get it, the economy is what it is) then perhaps you should narrow down the number of customers you survey to match the resources you have.  An automated email acknowleding receipt is a great start, but it’s not enough.  Call or email them to find out how you can do better by them.  Most important, let them know what you’ve changed as a direct result of their feedback!

Bad customer feedback is an OPPORTUNITY.  Any customer that bombs you should be on the top of your list.  If they’ve taken the time to tell you how unhappy they are, you still have a last chance to keep their business!  They are the people that can help you develop your business into what your customers want!  If you don’t call them immediately, you’re literally throwing money in the garbage. 

4 - If a customer leaves you a message, call them back!  Especially if you’re a supervisor. 

5 – Devise ways to create a community.  That does not always mean a Facebook or LinkedIn group, by the way.  I want to tell everyone I know about Patricia’s restaurant (by the way, click here to find their Facebook page and address so you can go there!) because I felt I was part of a family when I went.  They did not pay me anything.  I did not get any discount.  And yet, here I am not being able to say enough about how impressed I am with this place.  What can you do to get your customers to be this excited about them?  Here’s a suggestion – treat them like family – and for those of you that need the disclaimer – like the family you WANT!

Need your Business Bull busted?  Head on over to The BullBuster Boardroom!

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One Comment

  1. They also deserve to have the same expectations that you have. A complicated program with points structures, expiration dates and qualifying conditions is likely to create confusion that leads to conflict. Why would you want to engender conflict with your loyal customers? That runs exactly counter to the entire point of rewarding loyalty.

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