Lessons in Customer Service – Who has gained my business

Beginning a new business can be overwhelming. People come out of the woodwork on a steady basis trying to sell you products and services – everything from security systems to point-of-sale systems to banking services and payroll services to insurance, laundry service, cleaning services, HVAC services, pest control and more, more, more.

How do you decide who to go with when 15 companies want to sell you a single service?

For me the decision process has pretty much been the same for the majority of the services I decided to go with – did the sales rep demonstrate an interest in my business, are they a potential customer and how good was the customer service in general? Price has not always been the determining factor.

Here are a few examples:

Logo

I had several options for my logo and I found a company on-line that could design a logo rather inexpensively! I sent them some info and we exchanged e-mails. They sent me some designs that were “ok.” And if it was just about saving a buck I may have actually went with them.

Then I got a recommendation. This guy was big into the craft beer community and had actually designed logos for local breweries and beer labels too! We got together and we began by talking about craft beer! Then we talked about my store. And then we talked about a logo! He got my business and designed a beautiful Carolina Beer Temple logo!

Carolina Beer Temple

Carolina Beer Temple

Pest Control

I had to decide on a pest control service. I was approached by one of the big national corporations. They dropped me an e-mail asking for my business. I told them I would consider them and the sales rep took it upon himself to drop by my store – when I wasn’t there, with the doors locked. Without entering the building, without meeting me, he e-mailed me a quote.

A couple of weeks later while servicing one of my neighbors stores, a pair of young gentlemen saw the door was open at Carolina Beer Temple and stopped by to see how things were going. Our discussion was about craft beer and the booming market here in the Carolinas. They couldn’t wait to be customers! We exchanged business cards when they informed me they do pest control.

I later reached out to them and set up an appointment. This time the owner of the business showed up. We talked about beer and we talked about bugs. He walked the entire length of my store with me showing me how and where he would control the pests. He told me things he wouldn’t do and best practices he follows. Then he gave me a quote – and he got my business.

Internet and phone

I’ve been approached by several people for my internet and phone services. However, the most impressive was the sales rep who reached out to me to talk about beer first! He was stoked about our store opening in Matthews and assured me – regardless of whether or not I went with his corporations services, he was going to be a loyal customer.

When we set up time to discuss internet and phone services, he also invited his boss who is a craft beer drinker as well. The three of us spent at least 30 minutes over coffee talking about craft beer! Then we talked about internet and phone services. They got my business.

Later, I had a problem with my bill. I contacted my Sales Rep directly – no 1-800 numbers. He quickly put me in touch with the right people and the issue was resolved quickly!

Television

At Carolina Beer Temple we will open with one television. A television provider is a must-have and there are no small business options here – its either cable or satellite. The Sales Rep from the satellite TV corporation contacted me first. He knew my name and my wife’s name and he’d been to our Facebook page. We talked about beer and my adventure into small business. Then we talked about satellite TV!

A sales rep from the cable company never stopped by. However, I decided to inquire about their rates to get a comparison. I went to their web site first, then found the phone number for small business customers. Upon dialing the phone number I was greeted with an automated system that asked me to press 1 for this and 2 for that etc…Going through the first menu of items none of them applied to my situation! I listened to the menu again and chose the closest fit. I was greeted with a sub menu and again did not find any options that were applicable. While I know through most of those systems you can dial ‘0’ to get to someone I decided it wasn’t worth it! They lost me as “Press 1…”

I went back to the Satellite guy and he assured me I could go to him with any questions at any time – now or in the future. No 1-800 numbers, no automated menu systems! He got my business! And I have also had to contact him after we got things set up and again it was a direct call – no 1-800 number – and he helped me right away!

Point of Sale

Wow – there are a lot of options out there and they can be really pricy! Here I must say that price was a driving factor. However, someone recommended a system to me. I went to their website and found the site to be extremely easy to navigate, I found that 90% of my questions were answered on the site and I found numerous demo videos that showed how to set up the product and how to use the product. I was sold.

Many other POS offers were generic – “hey we’ll install this system for you for $4000” – no demo’s, no details, no web site to check out, no reviews to check out!

I wound up calling the folks for the POS system I wound up going with. They blew me away! I began by asking a few questions that they answered easily. When I told them I was ready to purchase the sales rep got my e-mail address and quickly sent me a link. Upon clicking the link I got a web page with his picture on it, his full name, his phone number and his e-mail address! He was now my customer service guy – “If you need anything at all Mr. Jacik please just call me or e-mail me.” Wow! Again, no 1-800 numbers, no automated menus. You’ve got my business!!!

Insurance

For Insurance I was approached by a sales rep who wanted me to know first and foremost he was going to be a loyal customer! We talked about craft beer. We also talked (over beers) about insurance. He has not only demonstrated his interest in craft beer with me, he already has several accounts around town with local breweries, wine stores and bottle shops – craft beer is clearly a passion of his. So he knows intimately what my needs are.

Unfortunately, he could not gain my business – for now. The prices he could get could not compete with the corporation I went with. His prices could not compete primary because I was a new un-established business. I even let him look over the entire quote I was going to go with and he told me, “yep, they are giving you a good deal – you should go with them.” However, once I get a year under my belt he told me we could talk again because he could compete after my business has been going for at least that long. Guess who is going to get a phone call in a year – and more than likely is going to get my business?

Have you seen a trend?

Largely I’ve been supportive of the little guys, the local folks in Matthews and Charlotte. However, on a few occasions I’ve had no choice but go with the big corporations and businesses outside the immediate area. Customer Service and attention to detail goes such a long way!

Most businesses I’m going with are people who will also be my customers. But in those circumstances where they are not, going that extra step to learn a little about me, what I am doing and what my needs are always makes an impression!

Coming from the corporate world I ponder whether more big corporations can offer this level of service. Of course they can! In fact, clearly its the large corporations that have the cash and resources to do so! Sadly, the vast majority of them don’t. Sadly, the vast majority of them are trying to cut corners and cut costs and don’t see the benefit of taking these steps. Sadly, they put in automated phone systems to save money and they outsource their support to foreign countries to save a buck! To them its about making customers, not about retaining them. They want your dollar up front and they want to squeeze every penny they can out of it, but they have no wisdom to see that they will not be getting your dollars down the road.

I look back at the corporation I left and all I see is a corporation with billions of dollars in the bank cutting corners like they are going broke, a corporation trying to save a buck to impress stock holders on a stock that has been stuck in the mud for 13 years! I heard a lot of talk about “lifetime loyalty,” but all I see are automated phone systems, critical projects in the hands of contractors, support that is largely outsourced to India and China, and a web site that fails miserably due to lack of funding. They talk a lot about earning the loyalty of small business customers, but as a small business owner I have not seen anything that would appeal to me. I’ve been approached by no one and no one has recommended your products or services (quite the contrary as a matter of fact).

You want to impress me? Odds are your products or services alone will not impress me. I insist that there is someone behind your walls who knows my name, has talked to me, has met me if possible and if possible has been to my store location.

If they exist, find the people within your organization that have a passion or interest in what I do. Then have them go find me! Lets have a conversation about what I’m trying to accomplish before you try to sell me your goods or services. Send someone out to meet me. Perhaps, buy me a coffee or tea (for less than $5), or even buy me lunch (for less than $12). Lets talk about what my needs are and then lets talk about how your products or services meet those needs. And then, show me that there are no 1-800 numbers to call when I hit a snag – assure me I’ve got a direct line to a real person whenever I have a problem with anything! Sadly, so many big companies will not go to this length to gain my business. And therefore they simply won’t get my business. And yet, they are probably the most capable via cash and resources of accomplishing such lengths in customer service, yet are penny wise and dollar foolish enough to not do so.

But I can hear some readers asking, “But Rob – aren’t you worried you’re giving away a some leverage in negotiations by revealing how to get your business to potential Sales Reps by posting this blog post?” – Not at all! Trust me, if they’ve read this far then they’ve already expressed an interest and deserve some of my time to talk about their product or service! Seriously – want to sell me something and impress me at the same time? Then tell me how you read my blog post about Customer Service and we can start from there!

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