Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back To The Basics

As I approach my next birthday I have spent some time reflecting on life and all that it brings to us. I have learned that much of life is cyclical. Certain things just seem to keep coming round and round. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it unnoticeable.

One lesson I learned early on in life is that all people simply want to be treated with kindness and respect. I started working in the world of retail when I was barely a teenager. I helped women in the fitting room at a local clothing store and I loved it. I did this only for a little while but had a lasting impression. It wasn't until I took some time off during college and worked for a well-known (predominantly) men's clothing store that I was able to get back to what I love. I was manager of the small woman's department and also expected to sell. I realized early on that by asking the right questions and really listening I was better able to serve my customers. I ultimately developed a deep customer base that became quite lucrative for me. Most of it word of mouth.

It was at that point that I decided I needed to return to college so I could finish my degree. I was told that when I had breaks I would have a job waiting for me. This went on for two years. Upon graduating I had a job with this company at the corporate headquarters in NYC. With the buying offices upstairs and the flagship store downstairs this gave me an opportunity to walk the selling floors and talk with the customer and listen to what they have to say. I placed value on the customers opinion. The information I was able to gather was very helpful when planning seasonal buys which proved ultimately to be lucrative for the company. A very rewarding job I must say.

After a few years of corporate retail it seemed like a natural transition to manage the customer service department for a different organization all together. Again, it was back to basics. Listening to the customer and working hard to fulfill their needs. Over and over this is what seemed to generate more sales. One customer at a time.

With so many large companies providing the same types of services and usually for about the same money there is really one thing that sets one apart from the other. It comes down to service. It's simple, if you provide poor service your customer will go where they feel valued and spend their money.

When I had my first child almost 11 years ago I quit working. Or should I say I went from a full time job with pay, vacation, and benefits to a full time job (24/7) with no pay, no vacation, and the only benefit was being able to care for my daughter while my husband supported us. As our family continued to grow it occurred to me that my role as a mother is much like a customer service representative of a company. I need to be available 24/7. I need to work hard to discern the needs of my children. Most times it is simple because they just tell me what they need.

The challenge for me is to figure out the specific need when it is being communicated in the form of a melt down. Then I have figure out how to make everyone happy within the parameters we have set as a family. Those are my two ultimate goals. Making those you serve happy and developing a large loyal customer base. I am currently in the business of keeping my customers (my children) happy. I am not however trying to grow this customer base. 3 is the max for us. I won't say they are always happy but they are loyal. However, that may be due to lack of funds on their part to go and live anywhere else. Hmmm, wait I think that is a different blog topic all together.

So, by knowing a bit of my background you will understand why I found it interesting that Joe Jaffe, a colleague of my husbands, recently wrote a book talking specifically about the importance of developing and maintaining a loyal customer base. The book is titled Flip The Funnel. I haven't read the book as of yet, but I did read a very nice review of it by Ad Age.

Essentially Mr. Jaffe's book is proposing the idea that businesses need to focus on the customers they have. Spend marketing dollars on them, make them happy. Make your customers experience personal. By doing this those customers will be loyal and bring new customers. It's not rocket science but I think it is difficult for big business to see the big picture. Sometimes it starts with a collective few, they should be thought of as the foundation. Once this is established then you continue to grow. In my opinion unless paying a bill, people want to talk to people. Not press a bunch of numbers only to confuse the system and be transferred to a rep where you need to repeat the information you already entered. For companies of all sizes it's back to basics, lessons most of us learned during childhood. Treat everyone with kindness. This is how friendships start and what allows them to continue to grow.

A few days ago while at home my doorbell rang. Two representatives from Edward Jones investments standing there wanting to talk with me. Initially, I was put off thinking they were selling something or wanting to rope me into a conversation I wasn't interested in nor was I prepared for. Pleasantly, I was surprised by what he had to say. They weren't selling anything, nor were they wanting to keep me at the door for very long. He wanted to leave me with a brochure. They had decided that they would hand them to people rather then leave them on the doorstep or in mailboxes. They said their interests are in building relationships, personal ones, one customer at a time, door- to-door. This company has realized that cold calls and brochures in the mailbox aren't building them the customer depth they would like so they are changing how they try to attract customers. They are making it personal.

I don't know if the people at Edward Jones have read "Flip The Funnel" or had conversations with Mr. Jaffe. I will go out on a limb and say they haven't. What I do know is that I like that people/businesses are realizing that most of their success starts with customers.

We are all customers somewhere. Are you a loyal customer to a specific business? Have you thought about why you are loyal? I'd love to know.

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