5 ‘Weak’ Days Print E-mail
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Written by Peter Bigelow   
Wednesday, 02 February 2011 15:41

Valuable lessons in customer satisfaction sometimes come at a price.

What can we learn from this?

I recently had a week filled with doing some simple “chores.” Some were for work, others for household needs. All seemed to my experienced, yet naïve, eyes to be simple, no-brainer stuff, and yet, all demonstrated how complicated we mortals make even the most basic tasks. Come along as I share my week.

Monday. It’s time to start a painting project, or more accurately, continue a project began last summer. I happened to have a gallon of paint left, but knew I would need a couple more, so off to the big box store I went. The chipper sales clerk in the paint department took my order; then I heard her say, “Uh oh.” Turns out the paint manufacturer, in an attempt to be “green,” changed the base formula in order to reduce some nasty chemical. To match the color, she would have to use the new, improved base. “No problem,” she said as new paint was mixed.

Yes, problem: The paint did not look at all the same! “I can’t imagine what happened,” she exclaimed. “I knew it,” I thought. Some 45 minutes and six cans of paint later, they had a pretty close match – to a standard color. Let’s see: six gallons scrap, over an hour’s time, two gallons of paint sold – how much did they lose on that sale?

Tuesday. I need to buy a part to fix a leaky toilet. Plumbing is not my forté, so I find a smaller, local hardware store. Once there, I immediately find a clerk and ask for assistance. Describing the broken part, I am whisked to the plumbing area, where he hands me four different packages of parts and assures me I need them. But my problem is that none of the parts – individually or collectively – looks at all like what is causing, well, my problem. And all the parts cost upward of $50. I do spot a package on the wall that looks like what I described, and it is only $5.89. Needless to say, I check out with the $5.89 part, which proves to properly fix my problem. So much for value-add service!

Wednesday. I am told more paint is needed. This time I take the almost empty, newly mixed can of paint that is a pretty good match of what I had really wanted back to the same big box store. Today I get a different but equally affable sales clerk. I explain the trouble from a few days earlier and, pointing to the almost empty can, that I want exactly what they mixed two days earlier. The sales clerk then explains that he is not regularly in the paint department, but is an expert on lumber. Eight gallons later, I walk away with another two gallons of an almost pretty good match to what had been a pretty good match to the paint I had originally wanted. Proceeding to checkout, I wonder if anyone would want a good deal on off-white bluish eggshell paint, because I know a place with tons of it, albeit not quite matching.

Thursday. Jeez, paint. Again. This time I need an oil-based gloss for doors in the plant. I go to three paint stores; each tells me they no longer carry that flavor, as it is not “green.” I tell them I need it for a manufacturing plant, which prompts a lecture on how it is illegal in this state to use oil-based paints where people can smell “VOCs” and “alklyds” and who knows what else. All I want is a GD quart of paint for the doors in a manufacturing plant. After a while the manager appears and asks what the problem is. The clerk paints me as the Father of Global Warming as I refuse to buy latex gloss paint. I again ask why I can’t get a quart of oil-based gloss enamel. The manager goes to the back room, brings out a quart of “gloss black” and asks, “Will this do?” I purchase the paint and, as I walk out, am told “just don’t use it on wood; that’s illegal.” Guess he didn’t hear what I was using it for.

Friday. I am sent to the grocery store to get food seasoning. Despite a list complete with the name and manufacturer of the ingredient clearly written out by my wife, I cannot seem to find it in the “super” store. A middle-aged clerk spies me and asks, “Whaddayaa looking faw?” I show him the neatly written name and manufacturer. After following him around what seemed like about 15 of the store’s 12 aisles, he stops and decides, “They seem to no longer make it, but if you blend these three ingredients, they will taste about the same.” Knowing my fate if I head home with three things that might taste “about the same,” I thank him and head home wondering if he ever has worked in a paint department at a big box store.

So what did I learn from this? I experienced a series of painful reminders about the importance of customer service, business ethics and all that it encompasses.
The chemical manufacturer races to be “green” (or RoHS compliant), but forgets the customer needs consistent and “exact” specifications, not just “pretty close” performance. All we want from our suppliers (and our customers from us) is consistent, reliable product – and not to be their beta site!

Are we overselling (or overdesigning) to more than satisfy a basic application? Yes, rebuilding my toilet may be better, but all I really needed or wanted was one simple part. How often do we try to overcomplicate a simple thing either to boost profitability or simply because we forget to “keep it simple”? Customers rely on each of us to make their jobs simpler, and when we make the buying experience seamless and cost-effective, now that’s true value-add!

Sometimes mistakes happen, but rather than focus on root cause analysis to prevent the problem from happening again, all too often we simply change the player and hope for a better outcome. How much scrap does it take for us to figure out that we have to change the process, not simply move someone from one department to another?

And finally, when you don’t have the answer, say so. Don’t put customers through a death march searching for an answer, or make them connect a zillion dots in order to concoct a complex solution to a simple task. How many times, instead of calling in a more experienced colleague, do we try to BS a customer, hoping they will just buy what we have? If you cannot satisfy the result, don’t substitute a menagerie of options that might work. It’s always better to say, “We don’t have that,” or offer a referral, even to a competitor, to where the customer might find what they need.

In five short days, I had five real lessons of how important consistency, process, service and honesty are in the buying experience.

Peter Bigelow is president and CEO of IMI (imipcb.com); This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . His column appears monthly.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 February 2011 17:21
 

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