The Customer is Your Lifeblood

By Mark Bowser

Serving Up Great Service

“We’re losing him. We’re losing him.  Hand me that rope over there,” yelled Captain Jake Lane as he tried to save his fallen warrior. “Stay with me Brett.  Don’t you die on me. Stay awake!”

“Where is that rope? He is losing his lifeblood.  We have to place a tourniquet on that leg. Give me the rope quick.”

A young Marine handed Captain Lane the rope.  Very quickly, the Captain wrapped the rope around his warrior’s leg and tied it tight to cut off the leakage of lifeblood. The Captain then took his arm and wiped sweat from his forehead.  His hands, uniform, and the ground around him were covered with the deep scarlet liquid that was his warrior’s life force.

At that moment, two marines knelt down by Captain Lane and their fallen comrade.  In their hands they had a gurney. “All right, careful men,” said Captain Lane.  “We have to get him to the base hospital ASAP.  I have cut off the flow for now, but he is going to need a transfusion soon or we will lose him.”

Captain Lane then knelt closer to his fallen warrior and said loudly to the groggy marine, “Brett, we got you.  We are taking care of you. You are going to be fine.”

Kind of a different way to start an article on how to achieve exceptional customer service. Wouldn’t you agree?  What our troops put on the line everyday to keep us free can’t be diminished. Their courage, guts, and determination is awe inspiring. Their job is more important, more difficult, and much more dangerous then what we do in business, but some of the concepts are eerily similar. Eerily?  Yes.  Because if you don’t take the ‘lifeblood’ seriously, your organization will die. Yes, even your organization. The truth is, any organization!

“The customer is our lifeblood.”  If I heard that quote one time, then I heard it a thousand times during my young adult years.  It is a quote from my Dad, Ed Bowser. My family owns the Bright Corporation. in Anderson, Indiana. Bright Corporation is a publishing house for the funeral industry.  They provide products such as register books, memorial folders, acknowledgement card, and prayer cards.

I usually heard the above statement when I was complaining about something. “I can’t talk to that customer on the phone. I have to prepare this invoice.”  This was during my green period in customer service when I was learning and beginning to understand the “why” of customer service.  Even at this early age, I understood pretty well the “how” of customer service, but I was struggling with the concept of “why” it was important to do so.

It is my belief that when an individual or an organization for that matter is struggling with the “why” of customer service, it always comes back to a focus inward on oneself.  This was my selfish period.  At times, the customer was a hassle to me.  I would think things like this: “You know, if I have to keep talking with these customers on the phone, then I am never going to get this bank deposit ready.”  That is when Dad ever so gently, but firmly, would remind me that the customer is our lifeblood.

Now, what does that term actually mean?  “The customer is our lifeblood” means just like it sounds.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary explains the word ‘lifeblood’ this way, “The most important part of something…a vital or life-giving force or component.”  Our blood is the life to our body.  Without our blood, there wouldn’t be any life.  The same is true with a business.  Our customers, whether they are external or internal, are the life of the organization. How long would you be in business and how many people could you employ if you kept ticking off your customers?

There is an organization here in the Cincinnati area that I have presented a training seminar for that appears to have forgotten this principle.  Oh, the employees get it…it is the leadership that doesn’t get it.  The employees we were speaking with that day shared with us some of the internal struggles they are having as an organization.  One gentleman said that from their internal research, around 75% of their customers consider them a bad vendor.  75%!!  Are you kidding me?  How can a company exist ticking off three fourths of their customers?  The truth is that unless something changes radically, then they won’t.  This company is hanging onto its existence like a five year old’s baby tooth to its gum. It is going to fall out.

You see, many people don’t understand that the “why” has to come before the “how.”  I don’t care how effectively an organization may train their employees in customer service, leadership, sales, presentation skills, time management, or tiddly winks…if they don’t understand the big “why” behind it, then it won’t make a bean of difference.

So, now the big question for you my reading friend.  Does your organization understand the “why” of customer service? How about yourself?  If not, put this book down right now and figure out your “why.”  The “how” can wait.  Once the “why” is discovered, then the “how” can easily and smoothly be implemented.

Alright, you have your “why?”  Good. Let’s get started.

If you really didn’t feel that you needed a cell phone, would you do business with the companies that make up that industry?  Think about it for a moment.  You and I probably wouldn’t do business with them.

Have you ever felt that your cell phone provider cared more about the next new customer (which they don’t have as of yet) more than they did about you?  That entire industry gets blinded by endless prospecting.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am a sales champion.  I truly understand the value of prospecting for future customers…but not to the detriment of my current customers. How do you lose customers?  By not taking care of them.  If your customer feels like  a number, then loyalty goes out the window.

“But, Mark.  You don’t understand.  I already satisfied the customer.  I provided what they needed.” Really?  Are you sure.  First, we have to understand that there is a Grand Canyon size difference between a “satisfied” customer and a “loyal customer.”

Satisfied customers only stay around until the next big thing comes to town (or until your competitors can convince them that they are the next big thing).  Loyal customers aren’t going anyway.  You are family to them.  In fact, they are your greatest source of new customers.  They spread the word…because they love you.

The question is why do loyal customers love your business or organization and is there a way to make more of our customers loyal?  Well, that is the theme of this article.  All great customer service organizations create systems to create loyal customers.  I am going to show you how to do that in this article and the articles to follow.  Follow the ideas, live the philosophy, and you will create a family of customers.

And, it all starts with the idea of lifeblood.  That is where it started for me and I think it is the best place for us to start our journey together.

As we begin our journey together, let’s take another look at the cell phone industry. Many, many years ago, there was a particular cell phone company I used as my mobile phone provider.  Now, this is way back when the industry was just making the switch from analog to digital. Yes, I know, I am dating myself just a bit here.  I was living in Indiana at the time and was getting ready to move to southern Ohio. That is when things got interesting.

My mobile provider told me that the switch should be no problem.  They said, “When you get over to Ohio, just go into one of our stores and we will get you set up.  Now, they use a digital system in Ohio so they will provide you with a different phone.”

When I got to Ohio and walked into one of their stores, I was told that they didn’t have a system yet to give me service in Ohio even with a different phone (the phone I had was only capable of being used in Indiana.  I told you I was dating myself.  Back then, much of the plans were for in state use).

I said, “No problem.  Then I guess we just cancel my service and I will find a service here in Ohio.”  That is actually when the problem began. The cell company said, “Well, then you will have to pay the penalty fee for cancelling your contract early.”  Let me tell you, it wasn’t a small fee.

That is when I got, well, just a bit ticked.  I explained to them that their store in Indiana had told me that you would be able to provide me with service over here. They hem and hawled for a while and then said, “Well, that is not one of our company owned stores, so we can’t be responsible for what they said.”

I then went on to tell them firmly that the Indiana store had their name on the sign in big, bold letters. They said, “That doesn’t matter.  They aren’t a company owned store.”

I am thinking, “Really?  You guys are really this stupid?” Long story short, I tracked this issue all the way up the line and spoke with one of the higher up executives in the company.  And you know what?  He gave me the same crap.  Remember when I said earlier that all great customer service organizations have systems that create loyal customers? Well, the opposite is true too.  Bad service organizations either have no loyal building systems…or just bad systems and policies. The latter was the situation with this particular cell phone provider.  I will give them this, they were consistent.  Which tells me that they had a policy in place not to look for ways to serve the customer.  Their policy was king.  As I write this, it sounds so idiotic.  Why would any organization be so stupid?  Good question.  But, we see it all the time, don’t we?

I went on to ask this cell phone exec a question.  I asked him, “You don’t really want my business, do you?”  He went on with his explanation of crap, so I interrupted him and asked him again, “So, you really don’t want my business, do you?” The truth is they didn’t. They lost me as a customer that day.  This company that I speak about is still around to this day…mind you, they do go by a different name today.

I did not pay their cancellation fee.  We kept that phone and we used it in Indiana when we would go home to visit family.  We did this until the contract ran out. In the meantime, I switched to another company that could provide me with service in Ohio and beyond.  And, I have been with them ever since.  That company is Sprint.  I am a pretty loyal Sprint customer.  At least as loyal as you can be to a cell phone company.  They all still focus a little too much on gaining a new customer at the expense of the current customers.

Let me now tell you why I am a loyal Sprint customer.   Over the years, Sprint has provided me with good service and they go out of their way to save us money.  A number of years ago, we upgraded our phones and then decided a short time later that we needed a different type of phone for my wife. She had been using a flip phone, but wanted to use her phone to send text messages. This is very challenging typing with a flip phone number keypad.

So, I walked into Sprint to see what we could do.  I will admit, I wasn’t anticipating too much.  Once you drive a car off the lot, it immediately loses value.  Same thing with a cell phone. But, the customer service representative was awesome.  She worked tirelessly to help us out.  Her hands were tied in that she couldn’t just do a trade in because our phone was now used.

An idea hit her, “What if we opened up a third line for you instead of just the two lines you have today? We could switch the flip phone to that third line.”

I am thinking, “That won’t work. That will cost me a bundle.” I expressed my reservations to the customer service rep.

You could almost see the wheels in her brain working on a solution in order to benefit me. She posed, “We have some corporate discounts. Maybe that will work. Where do you work?”

I said, “Well, I am self-employed.  So, I wouldn’t be listed as one of the corporate discounts.”

She didn’t miss a beat. “Where does your wife work?”

“She works at _____ City Schools.”

“Hmm, I think we have a discount for them.  Let me see.”

Guess what?  They did.  Here is the end result.  We opened a third line and switched my wife’s flip phone to that line. We then got my wife a new phone with an actual keyboard which made it easier for her to type her text messages.  We did all of this, and here is the clincher, for less cost per month than we had with our two original lines.

Sprint worked tirelessly to see how they could serve us.  They have done similar things for years.  Just recently, they suggested we switch to another mobile plan that would save us more money.  We had been using there Simply Everything Plan.  That simply means we had unlimited minutes, texts, and data.  We had simply unlimited…everything!  Well, they saw on our monthly usage that we weren’t using that much data.  At least not enough to justify an unlimited data plan.

Sprint suggested that we switch to a 20 gig per month plan. They even said they would double that amount for the next year. If memory serves, the move to this plan would save us $30 per month.  Sprint expressed that our monthly data average use was well under 5 gigs. More like 2 or 3 gigs. Now, that is taking care of the customer.  Going out of their way to make us loyal.

I know what you are thinking, “Yeah, I get it Mark. But, Sprint’s technology on their towers are way behind AT&T and Verizon.”  That was true for awhile.  It was still good service, but we didn’t have the LTE coverage that AT&T and Verizon had at the time.  So,  I will admit, for awhile I used an AT&T hotspot to supplement my phone coverage in certain places so that I could sink up my laptop or tablet when I was traveling.

I don’t have that old AT&T hotspot anymore.  I don’t need it. Most everywhere I travel to today has Sprint LTE.  And, Sprint allows me to turn my cell phone into a hotspot for my tablets.  Great service all the way around. And now, I have gotten my parents, sister and her family to all switch from Verizon to Sprint.  Am I loyal?  Quite a bit.

Creating loyalty takes work. But, it is not rocket science.  If you do the little things extremely well then that will keep your lifeblood flowing freely into your organization.

*To book Mark Bowser as a speaker for your next conference or training event then email info@MarkBowser.com.  

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