What do I have to manage? Customer Service – Part 3

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

In previous newsletters I have drawn the connection between the level of engagement of your employees with that of your customers. Its not really rocket science!

I can heartily recommend a little book by Mark Sanborn called “The Fred Factor” which goes directly to the heart of this issue. Based on a true story and an actual person called Fred Shea, it made a significant impact on me – and in many ways helped to shape my view of work – and more particularly, the way in which I do business.

In summary, the story is about a real-life postman called Fred, and his attitude to the fast-disappearing concept called ‘the work ethic’. Mark Sanborn, the author, is a professional speaker who travels around a lot, and Fred became his postman when he moved to a new home in Denver, USA.

In the foreword to the book, John Maxwell says this:

“Let’s face it – if a guy named Fred, who has a less-than-glamorous job working for the US Postal service, can serve his customers with exceptional service and commitment, what opportunities await you and me to help others, and in the process achieve deeper personal satisfaction? If I were to write out a list of individuals who would benefit from reading The Fred Factor, here’s whom I would include:

  • My employees and business associates – for they will learn the secret behind how to better serve customers.
  • Professional acquaintances in management positions – for they will be shown how to inspire an entire organisation to see unprecedented levels of excellence.
  • My family members – for they will discover the benefit of showing genuine appreciation to those they love
  • Graduating students – for they will find extraordinary insights into achieving lifelong success not taught in classrooms
  • Finally, I would wish to place the book in the hands of everyone I know who wants to turn the mundane into extraordinary experiences.

I’ve just bought a number of copies to hand out to my staff and associates. You can get them fairly inexpensively at the following link:


But, here are also a few tips to keep in the forefront of your thinking when dealing with your all-important customers.


Mrs Jones is in desperate need of a plumber because her electric geyser has sprung a leak and she can’t use any hot water. She phones the nearest plumber advertised in the Yellow Pages – Electric Plumbers. “Don’t worry, Mrs Jones, – I’ll get someone round there this morning.” The morning, and eventually the whole day, comes and goes. Two more calls to Electric Plumbers elicit no response. Electric Plumbers have not only lost the work from Mrs Jones, but they’ll never get any work from Mrs Jones’ neighbours, her family, her church or anyone else she comes into contact with.

If you can’t do the job in the time required, say so! If you can, get there on time and do a great job. Even if your business is struggling, this is the time to really deliver. The result will be ‘electric’!


I was involved in the construction industry for a number of years and nowhere is it more important that goods and/or services be delivered on time, than in this industry. The cost to a contract of having labour standing around waiting for materials to be delivered can be enormous. The same can apply to an assembly line, or a manufacturing process.

Apart from the cost implications of late delivery, there is also the added frustration factor for the customer. Nothing irritates me more than waiting for a promised delivery that is late because it impacts on my own time management and can cause me to be late for a valued appointment.

So, – don’t promise delivery at a certain time and then be late. Rather give yourself some leeway and arrive early and you’ll have a happy customer.


There are some unscrupulous distributors out there who quote a certain price and then once the order has been given, invoice at a different price – usually more! Or, – they will oversupply on an order, hoping the customer will just accept it! When it is not justified, the distributor will take a chance that the customer won’t detect the increase, and if he does, – well, an apology and a credit note will do!

There are also some distributors who take orders for goods and invoice them immediately, even if the goods are only to be delivered in the ensuing month. This usually happens close to a month end when sales targets need to be met and it can help to speed up the cash flow process.

It creates additional work for the customer, wreaks havoc with your own monthly performance and is a great source of frustration.

You, as the owner of the business, may have nothing to do with it! It may be an unscrupulous employee. However, you’ll get tarnished with the bad reputation and it will eventually lead to your downfall. So, – be vigilant! Ask your customers to contact you directly if they experience any problems and deal with them immediately.


Develop a code of excellence in everything you do. (The Fred Factor). This will encourage your employees to do the same. This will filter through to customer service and, in particular, the quality of your service or products.

In South Africa, mediocrity is more acceptable than in other parts of the world (even though it shouldn’t be!) but if you want your venture to become a world-class business, you will have to determine to be the best. I remember two experiences in the past few years which illustrate this perfectly:

The first one occurred when I went to a large general wholesaler to purchase a bell which visitors could use to announce their presence at the electric gates outside my house. It was in a sealed ‘bubble-pack’ and priced at about R100. When I got home, I wired it up and then discovered that it was faulty. I then had to repack it, get in my car, drive the fifteen-or-so kilometres to the wholesaler, go through a lengthy ‘returned goods’ procedure and then collect another one. This time I asked the attendant to unpack it and test it before I drove off. It was really irritating!

The second one involved the replacement of the exhaust system on my motor vehicle by a well-known franchised exhaust shop. The modern concept of ‘fast-fit’ has to be a misnomer. The forty-five minutes that was promised turned out to be double that. As I drove away, I discovered that the new system was banging against the bottom of the vehicle so I had to go back again and wait while the fitter had another go at it. Eventually, over a few days, three visits later and a good R2000 worse off, the car was right. This was even more irritating!

In both instances, there was no apology, no attempt to reimburse me for the inconvenience or lost time – just the comment, “if you have any problems please bring it straight back.” As if that’s doing me a favour – as if that’s an indication of good service! PULLEASE! They missed the point – we should not have to go back and we should not have to be inconvenienced!

Now I’m not trying to suggest that one should never make mistakes – that’s not possible because we all do. But if you embark on a process of excellence and it becomes a culture in your business, you will become known as the supplier of choice. Once you’ve attained that lofty ideal, price almost no longer matters. (I said ‘almost’!) There is no substitute for quality!


Have you ever received one of those after-service follow-up calls from your local motor dealer? It seems they are the only ones still doing it these days.

I like it! If I’ve had a problem it gives me an opportunity to voice my concerns. If I’m happy, I tell them. What concerns me, however, is what happens after I’ve told them I’m not happy with the service – quite often, nothing! This is usually because there is no link between the very pleasant female voice doing the follow-up and management responsible for action.

Make sure that wherever possible, you personally attend to the ‘action’ part. It helps you lead on to the next aspect of customer service, which is..


This is commonly referred to as CRM (customer relationship management) these days. In the twenty-first century, I believe building great relationships with your customers is the key to business longevity and success.

In short, what we want to achieve is this: – we want our customers to rate us as their supplier of choice. We want them to order goods from us without giving consideration to price. They need to be confident that we will provide them with quality goods, at a reasonably competitive price and delivered on time. In order to ensure this level of confidence, we are going to have to work very hard at building strong, long-lasting relationships with them.

Most of us find ourselves in a situation where we do not have a captive market and so we’re all after a slice of the same pie. It has never been more certain that ‘if you snooze, you lose’, than it is today. Because the pie has got smaller! We don’t want customers going to the competition when we’ve worked so hard to keep them.

So how do we do this?

The first thing we must understand is that every sale must be considered an evolutionary process and not an event.

Perhaps the best way to describe this process is to draw an analogy to the construction of a house. When a house is built the most critical aspects are the foundations and the first cornerstones above the surface. If the foundations have been badly prepared and laid, the house will, at the least, develop serious structural defects, and at worst, fall down! If the cornerstones have been laid incorrectly, the walls will not meet and they’ll end up skewed.

The first sale is like laying the foundation to a building. It should happen with no hitches. The next few sales are the cornerstones of the wall. They set the pace for the relationship that follows.

Although the foundations of a house are so important, they soon get covered up and forgotten and all the attention is focussed on what can be seen above ground. In the same way, all the hard work that went into the initial sale is soon forgotten and every sale from then on is judged on its own merits. However, if the first sale was handled in an exemplary fashion, and the process continued thereafter, it is unlikely that a small mistake will chase the customer away.

The second thing we must understand is our customer’s business. Now, I don’t mean we have to become involved in the day-to-day running of his business, but I think we should be able to provide him with assistance that goes beyond just selling him the goods he wants to buy from us. I have a client who makes it a point of offering his customers sound advice whenever he thinks it will add value. That can involve sharing some winning ideas he’s come across or it can involve providing links to other customers to create synergy.

Thirdly, become familiar! Get to know him as a person and not just an organisation, get to know the names of his wife and children – socialise with him from time to time without living on his doorstep.

There is a universal principle that states: “As you sow, you will reap.” And any farmer will tell you that if you spend your life stripping the soil of everything it has to give, without putting anything back, you will eventually end up with nothing.