Customer Follow-Up Is An Art In Business
by Patrick Cataldo
If business is an art—and much of it is—it's time to ask yourself what your company's portrait would look like if it were painted on your customer's canvas. Is it a thing of memorable beauty, say the Mona Lisa? Or is it a disjointed, abstract mess that is confusing and lacking in recognizable form?
There's nothing wrong with cubism in art, of course, but in business, realism is better. If your product or service is reliable, fast, efficient, high quality, a fair value, and you provide great customer service, your customers probably will portray you as lovingly as DaVinci. What moves off the palette is really up to you.
Consumers want and expect value for their money no matter what they purchase, and the higher the price, the higher the expectations. Quality carries a price, and behind every great brand is customer follow-up and exceptional service. How effective is your organization at following up on customer concerns? What do you do—proactively—to deliver on the expectations, to ensure a satisfied buying experience?
Brand loyalty is only as good as the company that stands behind it. Customers have become conditioned to getting what they want, when they want it. If they don't, they will go somewhere else to find it. You must protect your brand with a continual process of engagement and customer feedback before, during and after the purchase.
As Ken Blanchard wrote in his best-selling book Raving Fans, "If you really want to 'own' the customer, if you want a booming business, you have to go beyond satisfied customers and create raving fans." Raving fans become lifetime customers, advocates of your products or services in the marketplace. According to Bain and Co., the worldwide consulting firm, you can boost profits as much as 255 percent by retaining merely 5 percent more of your existing customers. Raving fans are a result of great products, service, and customer follow-up.
Take Lexus, the auto manufacturer that leads the industry in an engaged customer experience. One of its dealerships, Ray Catena Lexus in Monmouth, N.J., not only provides outstanding service but amenities in its customer lounge that rank second to none. The dealership provides Starbucks coffee and fresh bagels in the morning, lunch items and refreshments throughout the day, and cable TV, newspapers, magazines, and laptops connected to the Internet. When your car is ready (washed and vacuumed), the service adviser explains what was done, walks you to the cashier, and, before you leave, ensures that everything was done to your satisfaction. A week later you receive a personal call to get feedback on your visit, and then a paper survey arrives from Lexus in the mail for your written evaluation.
Many times there's a tremendous benefit in having an objective, third party obtain and provide valuable customer feedback. One firm that specializes in gathering objective information related to the customer experience is Customer Follow-Up Inc. Its president, Marc Warren, provided an example of the kind of work done to obtain unbiased feedback for clients by telephoning an agreed list of customers. In one customer relationship, Warren learned the following:
"Actually we were considering changing vendors. It is very frustrating working with them. The sales rep is great; she is professional and cares about servicing us and how their product performs, but it is clear that she does not have the support of her company when there are problems. The product is often late, their 24/7 help line is rarely available at night, and their invoicing is seldom accurate and needs to be checked carefully."
Warren's company provided the feedback to its client who had no idea that this customer felt that way. With this feedback, Warren said, "Our client was able to take positive and proactive action, which helped to save the account."
While some people seem more forgiving of poor customer service than others, it is going to remain true that future business will still go to those companies that focus on providing better customer satisfaction through customer follow-up programs. So if business really is an art, your focus on customer satisfaction and a serious customer follow-up program effort will have your customers painting you pictures that your competitors will admire.
This article originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times.