The Service Solution

First Things First

For a while, I did business with a small audio duplicating company that treated me very poorly. Inevitably this bad treatment trickled down to my customers. Are you aware of how much damage doing business with people with the "me first" sell-you mind-set can do?

Why would I, a so-called authority on customer service and sales, put up with bad treatment? Part of the reason is that it can be very costly and time-consuming to change suppliers. That makes it easy to rationalize that mistakes won't happen again. But they always do.

I'm getting smarter in my old age, however. I now do business with people who treat folks the way I do and the way I teach people to treat customers. I think many people are like I am: We were naive once, but we are smarter now. We will no longer stand by and be wowed by some insulting product peddler.

In the 21st century, the customer will continue to challenge the salesperson: "You are going to have to get to know me before I fork over a wad of money. Start listening to me, understand my business, and never forget that you are not the only fish in the sea. There is always someone smarter out there who is more than willing to provide excellent service."

In this age of high technology, many of the personal touches of doing business are being eliminated--the handwritten thank-you note, the owner of a company calling a customer personally rather than delegating the task to an assistant, the small-business owner telling the truth about a mistake made and offering to rectify it. Yet these so-called outdated ways of doing business are what distinguish the servants of the people from the self-absorbed order-takers.

If you and your team expect to survive now and in the 21st century, do something every day to develop your service muscle in the marketplace. The following two exercises will help you build that muscle:

1. Develop business daily. To develop business means to prospect. The more prospects you have in the pipeline, the more peace of mind you'll have about your business. When you're not worried about money or a lack of customers for your business, you communicate much more objectively. You use phrases such as "How can I serve you?" and "What do you need from my company and me to help make your business more profitable?" It's very difficult to speak that type of service-oriented language with complete honesty when you're worried about paying your bills or meeting payroll.

In the case of the poorly run duplicating company, I later found out they were not delivering my orders on time because they needed more people to ship the goods. Hiring more help would take away from their profits. We were their only regular customer, so they needed to make all the money they could from our orders--at the expense of my customers and myself, of course.

When your agenda becomes more important than your customers' needs, you look for ways to cut corners. Take the pressure off yourself and the two or three prospects you've been clinging to, and go out and find additional people who need what you have to offer.

People are always amazed at the relationship that exists between developing a service mind-set and tripling business development efforts. But they go hand in hand. If solid prospects are constantly flowing through your pipeline, it stands to reason that: a) sales are being made, b) you feel less pressured, and c) your kind and generous spirit comes to the forefront.

2. Pinpoint the buyer's motivation. It's so much easier to approach customers with the service mind-set when you know exactly why they want to buy what you have to offer. Once they state the reason, discuss why they should purchase your product rather than someone else's. Emphasize how it can serve them. This type of presentation is different from pushing for the sale or a signature on the contract.

The best part of working with a servant rather than a mere salesperson is the after-sale results. My new duplicator makes me look like the saint of all servants with my customers. My business has tripled since he came on board. Plus, I no longer spend hours on the phone arguing with people who do not care about my needs. Nor do I have to explain myself and my incompetence to those who put their trust in me. Life is good when we serve and work with those who can help us serve better.

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This article was originally published in the March 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Service Solution.

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