When did clients or customers become secondary?  In the last several weeks I’ve experienced examples of not just poor client service, but let me call it stupidity when addressing client concerns.   In each case, clients were lost.  Can you afford to lose clients you don’t want to lose?  Have you trained your team on how to address client issues?  If not, I bet you’ve already lost clients you didn’t intend to lose.

At the young age of 16 I was taught how to serve clients, and just as importantly, how to dress appropriately.  My first job at Wendy’s in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1976 taught me lessons I carried into my professional career.   For those of you old enough to remember, Wendy’s was a new concept designed to compete against McDonalds.  As such the management team demanded excellence in client service, teaching me how to cook all the food consistently, how to greet customers, how to make things “right” when mistakes were made, when to involve management when the mistake was really bad and how to look your best every day.  

One shift in particular, I was working the fryer.  A pretty simple job – you put the fries in the basket, drop into the hot grease, hit the timer, wait for the buzz, pull the fries out, shake and salt.  Simple right?  Well, when you’re under pressure it’s a whole different game.  We were swamped and the last thing you want to do was hold the line up because the fries were still cooking.  So under pressure, I didn’t wait for the buzzer to tell me the fries were ready.  I pulled them out early and guess what, I was nailed and, pulled off the fryer. But instead of being reprimanded, I was appropriately coached on the importance of delivering a consistent product.  In this case French Fries.  Lesson learned!

On another occasion, I showed up for work with a little stubble on my chin and a few wrinkles in my Wendy’s shirt.  Jim Keet, owner and store manager who later went on to be a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives and State Senator took notice of my unkempt look and immediately sent me home to clean up before returning to work.  Needless to say, I was not happy.  When I got home my Dad asked why I was there.  I told him, hoping for some sympathy, but instead he looked at me and said,  “You better get cleaned up and back to work.  Another lesson learned!.

In today’s environment where retaining clients and growing your business is so important, why is it so difficult to serve clients and look your best every day?  Because many organizations fail to train and instead write policy after policy to address client issues when mistakes do get made.  What has happened to using good old common sense, onthespot training and trusting your people to make good decisions?

Case in point #1 – The $100 Screw-Up.

A friend of mine just returned from a one-week western adventure with a well-established travel company.  As a result of my going with her, she was entitled to a $200 referral credit. When we returned, she noticed that she had not been credited the $200 so she called the company and here’s the explanation she got:

“Based on our records it shows that we have been marketing to Mr. Spencer for a number of years and based on our policy, you are not entitled to the $200 credit”

After some back and forth, the company representative agree to give her a $100 credit.

So here’s a few more facts before you decide the individual was correct in enforcing their company policy.

  1. My friend had booked and traveled with this company on multiple occasions, and this was her fifth trip.  All told, I’m guessing, based on her previous trips, she has spent in excess of $25,000 with the company.
  2. She was in discussions with the same company to book a trip to New Zealand with her kids and soontobe daughter in law.  Not an inexpensive trip.
  3. Their marketing to me had been unsuccessful. In fact, had my friend not highly encouraged me to go, I would have likely never booked this trip.

When she told me about this, I was furious.  It wasn’t about the $100, but the fact on how idiotic people can be.  Clients are so difficult to get and even more so to retain.  Loyalty is not what it once was.  So why give your clients a reason to leave?

In hindsight, what should this company have done?  First of all, know your client.  The person should have known my friend had just completed her fifth trip and they should have known according to their records of conversations that she was planning to book a sixth and much larger trip in the near future.  Second, the person should have used their common sense and checked with their superior to allow the $200 credit to be awarded.  And finally, if they were committed to retaining a loyal client, this is how they should have responded to the inquiry:

“Thank you for inquiring about the $200 credit.  I see that this was the 5th trip you have booked with us and I want to thank you for your loyalty.  As for the $200 credit, because we had been marketing to Mr. Spencer for some time, our policy typically does not grant the referral credit in this situation.  However, I did explain your situation to my team leader and he believes had you not spoken highly about your previous trips to Mr. Spencer, he likely would not have committed to this trip.  So we are waiving our policy on this occasion and your $200 credit is being processed.   I also see from our notes that you are considering booking a trip to New Zealand over the holidays.  How can I help you make this another memorable trip for you and your family?”

Unfortunately, in this case a client was lost over $100 and her big trip to New Zealand is being booked through another competing travel company.

Case in point #2 – Lost Customer for Life

I was out for a walk one afternoon when, as we have all experienced, nature called.  Knowing my route would take me past a nationally recognized coffee house, I decided to stop for a break.  It was quiet that afternoon at this famous coffee house when I slipped in to use the restroom.  Upon my exiting, this is the conversation that took place:

Employee – Sir, can I help you?

Me – No, I just needed to use your restroom, thank you.

Employee – Sir, restrooms are for customers only.

Me – I am a customer, I buy here all the time.

Employee – I’m sorry but our policy is the restroom is for paying customers only and you need to buy something.

To say I was stunned was an understatement! So what did I do? I just kept walking and exited this nationally known coffee house.  As I continued my walk, I became even more furious and thought about my options:

  1. Do nothing and continue to purchase my daily iced tea at this location.
  2. Return to the store and request to speak to the manager to express my displeasure.
  3. Boycott and never purchase from said nationally known coffee house store ever again.

I chose #3.

I’m sure everyone who reads this can share similar stories.  

Now here’s my question to you: is this happening in your own organization?  Are your employees following established policy so strictly that you make it hard to do business with yourself?  

Think about it.  Do your policies make it difficult as a business to do business with your company compared to your competitors?

Here’s a few of my takeaways:

  1. Know your clients – whether we like it or not all clients are not treated equally.  Protect your large accounts.
  2. Make sure the people who serve your large accounts understand the significance of the account and are committed to providing superior service and when necessary and timely, bring issues up the ladder to the appropriate person.
  3. Review your policies.  Some policies are written because of a mistake by a single employee.  Yes, this happens all the time.  Organizations have created so many policies, many employees run in fear of making a mistake.  So what do they do?  They follow policy and forget to use common sense.  Eliminate unnecessary policies and encourage your people to use common sense.  And when a mistake is made, coach appropriately.

Retaining clients is this ultra-competitive world should be the #1 priority of all companies.  Is your company Thriving, not Just Surviving with client service?

If you’re interested in communicating the keys to great client service, consider booking me for your next leadership conference or company retreat.