Why we need to get beyond saying: “We provide great customer service”

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folding chairsWe provide great customer service.

This phrase is, in my opinion, one of the seven deadly sins of architectural, engineering and construction marketing.

The reason: Great customer service should never be taken for granted.But the only people who have the right to say: “We provide great customer service” are our clients – and there are good reasons to believe that this observation should only count if it arises spontaneously.

(I know, it is good sales and business practice to survey clients, solicit positive testimonials, and gather “customer feedback”. But I’ve also seen too many examples of how businesses use trickery or manipulation to obtain the answers they are seeking as part of cynical marketing ploys.)

We need to take the “great customer service” concept to a much deeper level, embedding it into our internal operations by developing genuine – and not specifically marketing-based – strategies to enhance it.

Consider, for example, Don Pepper’s observations in The Man With a Folding Chair, where he describes how a Siemens AG executive in Munich approached internal sales meetings.

“Just watch,” the manager said, as they both entered the conference room. Several people, including sales reps, were already gathered in the room when the manager brought his chair in, unfolded it, and set it down empty next to his own seat.

“Who are you expecting to join us?” asked several of the sales reps already gathered for the meeting. “Shouldn’t we just get some more chairs brought in here?” some others suggested, as they leapt to their feet and prepared to find more chairs to bring in.

“No, no,” the manager replied, “this is my customer’s chair. I brought it into the meeting so my customer can sit right here and listen to our discussion.” Then, with a nod to the empty chair, he said the meeting could begin. But, as he had predicted, the character of the discussion was indeed quite different from the typical sales gathering. Several times during the meeting, participants found themselves asking whether a particular point would be made in this particular way if the customer were actually sitting there and listening. Would we say this in front of our customer? What would our customer think of our plan for dealing with this issue? How do we think our customer would interpret this new policy? Would our customer agree with us that this is a good idea or not?

Pepper also pointed out to another writer’s posting about how Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos used the extra chair in the room concept at his earlier meetings, as he strived to build a true 100 per cent client-centric company.

In the second article, Kevin Baldacci explains how Bezos captured early on perhaps one of the most important “whys” of building a truly client-centric business.

“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends,” Bezos realized. “If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000.”

We can’t hide from our customers in our internal culture, rules, and business practices. Nor, frankly, can we pull the wool over most people’s eyes for very long these days. We need, instead, to put our clichés and marketing messages aside and do everything in our power to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes.Then, when our clients truly believe that we offer “great customer service” we can forgo our bragging and focus on how to humbly strive to make our service even more appealing.

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