There’s a good reason why service businesses – like yours, presumably – should never go out of business. (Conversely, it’s a mystery why many of them do.)
The reason they should thrive comes down to human nature; people like to do business with other people, not faceless, corporate entities, or machines. Businesses that rely solely on technology to sustain their revenues come and go. Remember Kodak? Gone. MySpace? A $700 million white elephant. History is littered with businesses that failed at least in part because they deliberately kept their customers at arms length.
But those who strive to serve, face to face, can weather almost any storm.
One personal example:
Michelle and I like to do road trips, touring our vast country, towing our camper trailer. (Cue excuse to show holiday pics here.) Last week, after our most recent 10,000km drive through the Kimberley region of Western Australia, I took the trailer to the local dealer for a routine bearings-and-brakes service.
It’s a husband and wife operation, just Jim and Lynda, operating out of a rented warehouse in the northern suburbs of Perth. Three days later, when I went back to collect the trailer, Jim had not only done the routine stuff, he’d replaced a couple of broken parts, lubricated all the fiddly bits I somehow never got around to, fitted a new battery under warranty, and even re-fitted a water pump I’d jerry-rigged after it was damaged on the notorious Gibb River Road.
And the total bill? Nothing. Nada. Zero. Refused to accept payment. Jim knows that I sing the praises of this particular make of camper trailer. Accordingly, in a Facebook group I run for this brand, I duly extolled the virtues of Jim’s excellent service, and others chimed in with similar sentiments. Jim knows that businesses like his live and die on the strength or weakness of the relationship between him and his customers.
It doesn’t actually matter that his product is acknowledged as one of the best. The previous owners of the dealership had the same product, but their attitude to customer service was appalling, and it showed in sales.
As a consumer, you can’t have a relationship with a machine, or a website, or a call centre. You can only have a relationship with people, In the end, even the biggest businesses are just people doing their thing, except that the bigger the business, the more its people hide behind the grand facade.
(The smarter people behind the biggest of businesses know this. Apple didn’t need Steve Jobs for his technical or engineering expertise. Apple needed Jobs because it was Jobs who had the relationship with the company’s customers. To them, Jobs was Apple.)
Many of our Member salons & spas take customer service to the extreme. One makes a habit of sending hand-written birthday cards – real ones, in an envelope, in the mail, with a real stamp, not just a lazy text message or email – to her top 500 clients. That’s an average of 40 a month, every month. But it comes back in spades of sales. Another will open her salon on a Sunday if a customer can’t make it any other time. These are the kind of ‘above and beyond’ actions that people extol to their friends.
It’s not doing the expected that people talk about. It’s doing the unexpected. The small and inexpensive gift, brought out from under the counter as the customer pays her bill. The random phone call a few days after your visit, from the owner who asks “Hi Jane, I just wanted to check that you were happy with our service when you were in this week?” This is the kind of service you just can’t get from a machine, or a website, or a call centre.
To quote Henry Ford: “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”