Study Hall

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Solving Problems: Customer Service Equals Customer Retention

It’s not about taking orders; it’s about solving problems. And when a problem does come up, the quicker you can respond and deal with it, the better.
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There’s not a day that goes by that we’re not faced with brutally bad customer service. Yet, occasionally we’re still surprised. It makes one wonder what sets the bar in today’s world.

My wife Carla and I bought a condo last year that was in serious disrepair. I love a challenge, so I gutted it and started over from scratch. As part of the finishing touches, Carla bought a complete lineup of General Electric (GE) appliances. She went the extra mile (read: spent more money), choosing custom brass-colored handles to match the kitchen cupboards. The end result is truly magnificent.

There is one problem, however: the refrigerator’s video touch screen. It provides selection between filtered water, cubed or crushed ice, and it even has a hot water dispenser! That’s not all… It’s so “smart” that it’s equipped with Bluetooth wireless capabilities that let you upload photos, and it also has a tutorial of sorts that tells you about the various features that are included.

In other words, it’s absolutely ridiculously stupid. Who in their right mind wants to upload photos to a fridge? And who would Bluetooth their phone to the fridge to remotely change the temperature? Worst of all, the installation manual and user guide do not address how to turn off the friggin’ tutorial! So, each time we try to get a glass of water, we have to wait until it reminds us of some useless feature that we’ll never use.

I sent an email to GE several weeks ago asking how to turn this function off, and I’ve still have not received word back. Want more? The website says for U.S. and Canada customer service, insert your zip code and select your state. Guess what? There are no Canadian provinces listed and Canadian postal codes do not register. (Editor’s Note: Just before press time, Peter informed me that the company had finally responded to his inquiry – about a month after he sent it. No word yet if their proposed solution actually helps.)

A Time To Step Up

For years, GE’s former CEO Jack Welch led us “business folk” with his words of wisdom. To me, two of his most important statements include: “If you can’t be number one or number two, why are you playing the game?” – and – “If it’s easy, anyone can do it.”

Jack built GE up to become one of the most important businesses on the globe. In 2000, the company’s stock price was a lofty $60 a share. In 2001, he retired, and 20 years later, today’s stock price is about $6 a share or 1/10th the value. What happened?

They say a fish always rots from the head first. Is it fair to attribute the company’s downward trend to customer service? Probably not. There are many factors that surely come into play. The most telling are recent reports that claim one of the company’s divisions was so profitable that it obscured the problems in other divisions.

I’ve always professed that when the dollars are rolling in, everything is easy. But when things get tight, management has to step up and make some seriously tough decisions. During my tenure at Radial, I never let down my guard. I always kept costs as low as possible, had a forced savings account to put money away for a rainy day, and established firm budgets… just in case.

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When it came to customer service, we were 100 percent committed. We had a full-time customer service manager and three full-time product specialists to answer emails and phone calls from consumers, audio engineers and stage techs. Yet in the early days, it wasn’t easy. Until we found our footing, I didn’t have the money to pay our reps well. So, we suffered a high degree of turnover.

I recall introducing our new Eastern territory rep to Bill Kirman, the buyer at Steve’s Music Store in Montreal. Bill’s comment was succinct and to the point: “How long will this person last?” His point was crystal clear: he wanted a rep that he could get to know, be around long enough so that he could gain trust, and instill confidence that the rep would have his best interests at heart. Business is all about building solid and long-lasting relationships. It’s all about consistency. People buy from trusted sources.

At Radial, the real magic came when we changed the sales team structure. We looked at various scenarios, tested a few to see if they held water, and eventually settled on two-person teams whereby each field rep was assigned an inside support partner that could answer the phone and emails when the field rep was traveling or on vacation.

If a problem arose, the dealer had a direct line to a real person with whom he had a real relationship. As time advanced, you could see how the inside folks were becoming pals with the dealers, to the point that they would ask for them at trade shows or even deliver thank-you gifts!

Relationships & Commitments

Customer service is not about taking orders; it’s about solving problems. When a problem is encountered, the quicker you can respond and deal with it, the better. If a problem is allowed to fester, it can have grave effects on a business.

If you have a solid relationship with a customer, the customer will tell you about the problems with your business because he or she cares about you and the long-term success of your business. If you do not, they will smile and say niceties while quietly giving their business to someone else. Changing the speed-dial number on a cell phone only takes a minute.
Customer service is also about making a commitment to deliver, yet to not overcommit. You’re much better off to promise a delivery schedule that is realistic than to let a customer down.

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