Challenging sales and service

Below is an excerpt from my article in the Lumber Co-operator September/October Issue.

On June 11th Umair Haque posted on his blog: How to Challenge Your Industry Dogma. I looked at his challenge and said to myself: Who will be the next Apple in the building supply industry?

Haque said: “What does it mean to be a revolutionary? To challenge an existing dogma, instead of complying with it: to reject its tenets, highlight its flaws and improve each of its shortcomings.

What makes Apple so revolutionary? Why is it able to disrupt industry after industry, and topple the mightiest of incumbents? Steve Jobs is, from an organizational perspective, more Che Guevara than Jack Welch: he’s always challenging dogma, instead of complying with it. Apple’s rivals, like most companies, do exactly the opposite: “this is how things are done,” they think — and then try to do it harder.”

Challenge sales and service. Haque said:”Apple sells very differently from its rivals, and I’m not just talking Apple ads. Instead, I mean the Apple Store. Yesterday, electronics were soulless “product,” commodities hard-sold by tuned-out teenagers in big-box megastores. The Apple Store challenged every aspect of that and turned it on its head. The act of exchange became personal, passionate, and interesting. Who doesn’t stop into an Apple Store every now and then just to check something out? The Genius Bar turned service upside down — giving people, well, actual service, instead of just outsourced script-reading (imagine that). That has paid steep dividends: the Apple Store is (by far) the most productive and profitable store in your local mall.”

Which lumber company is going to turn the building supply industry on its head? Who will turn their company into the next Apple Store? For example, what about having a concierge service in your building supply store. Perhaps a concierge would provide one or all of these services: architects, project management, accounting, costing/profits, marketing, or building code advisor. These services could potentially bring customers to your store.

How many of the following rules are you following from The Customer Service Manifesto by Joseph Jaffe (Service Manifesto)?

Jaffe Rule 1: “Customer service doesn’t end at 5p.m. on a Friday.”

One should listen to customer sentiments. Make sure customers can contact you when needed. Be sure that you’re always actively listening.

Jaffe Rule 2: “Move from ‘everything communicates’ to ’everyone communicates.’”

Every single employee represents the company. Customers don’t care if you have 1,000 employees or only two; they just want their problems solved. Customer service is your public relations department. Empower all employees to deliver world-class customer service, no matter where they are in your organization.

Jaffe Rule 3:All customers are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Every customer deserves to be treated well, respected and given the proper amounts of attention and effort. Ideally, the minimum bar should be set higher than the competitor’s minimum bar and higher than the industry average.

Jaffe Rule 4: “Customer service is not only about solving problems.”

Solving problems or order-taking is important but helping our customer improves their skills. Keep a simple portfolio of useful tips, tools and tutorials to up-sell your customer on value, not revenue.

“Is there anything else I can help you with today?” Do we really want to know if they need anything else, or has the question become meaningless. We need to be proactive, productive, and efficient with the time spent with our customers; offer or suggest ideas; give information of value; recommend solutions from which you and your customers will benefit.

Jaffe Rule 5: “Customer service lives ‘in the now.’”

The more time that elapses between problems and solutions, the greater the risk that problems will escalate out of control. Slowness in response to customers’ problems can result in dissonance with the customer. Quickness becomes your friend.

Jaffe Rule 6: “Customer service can be a revenue generator.”

By building on these nine rules customer service turns into recurring revenue, repeat business, and loyalty. Also, these rules can indirectly bring in new business from new customers.

Jaffe Rule 7: “Customer service needs a memory.”

Our customer is our livelihood. The commitment is similar to a marriage, it’s for keeps. We need to be visibly demonstrating commitment to our customers through our actions and they need to feel the benefits. Our customers have long memories; we need to show them we do too.

Create a customer profile that includes personal information such as marital status, number of children, etc. Also, include other information about social networking sites they engage in like Facebook, Linkedin, or Twitter. This information will enable you to connect with your customer on a personal level.

Jaffe Rule 8: “Customer service needs to be proactive and anticipatory.”

The new customer service needs to anticipate requirements, hear what the needs are and proactively strive to provide solutions to problems.

Are you proactive or reactive? Both are fine as long as you are active and not complacent. There’s potential to turn a negative into a positive and capitalize on an opportunity.

Jaffe Rule 9: “Feedback is alive.”

Feedback needs to be active, direct and effective at improving, evolving and moving the business forward. Feedback may propel innovation and help to create new revenue streams.

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