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With tools in place, customer can be king:

September 25, 2006

Is the customer always right?

"Darn tootin'," as my son, who is in the business of customer satisfaction, would say. Factually this may not be true-the customer can be wrong-but we have to let customers think they're infallible if we want a successful business.

The president of a company I used to work for always said "the customer is king." Fairytales depict kings as the ultimate power, and in business customers should have fairytale-like powers, too.

Most businesses serve five groups of stakeholders: the owners, the customers, the employees, the suppliers and the community. We like to talk about these five groups being equal, but the reality is that, without customers, the other four groups wouldn't exist.

Consequently, most (not all) successful businesses place the customer on top of any priority list. So why are there so many frustrating stories about poor customer service? Why is it that when we get great customer service, it seems so unusual? What can we do as business owners and managers to truly serve the customer well-in turn growing our business?

Here are the key ingredients:

The owner/manager/leader has to set the pace, making it clear that the customer is why the business exists and always must be satisfied. Leaders can take no shortcuts or call it "good enough" when it comes to customer service-those who work for you are watching and learning from your actions.

Constantly and consistently train every person within your organization to understand a key fact: "The customer is our top priority and, without the customer, there is no paycheck." Empower employees to "get it right" with the customer.

When and if a customer is dissatisfied, exceed the customer's expectations and "do something extra"- offer something for free or at a discount, write a letter of regret, etc.

Know how your customers value your organization. Feedback is critical and can be accomplished in a number of ways. Surveys, evaluations and thirdparty involvement such as the "secret shopper" approach usually produce results. All feedback should be shared with the entire organization and steps implemented to avoid further negative occurrences.

Long live the king!
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