Volume 12, Issue 4 - July/August 2010

Customer Service
tips for quality service

Aha! I’ve Finally Seen the Enemy!
by Carl Tompkins

Years ago, I conducted a selling skills course for new employees at PPG Industries in Pittsburgh. Most of the attendees were new to the world of business and their employment at PPG was their first major job. Part of the one-week schedule included a luncheon with then-chief executive officer Vince Sarni—an event to which everyone looked forward with great anticipation.

One of his favorite stories was built around the cartoon figure, Pogo, who, within a particular cartoon publication, was seen holding up a hand mirror, gazing into it and saying, “Aha! I’ve finally seen the enemy.” Sarni went on to explain the accuracy and truth of this statement to his youthful audience. He also pointed out that the true competition in business is not other companies but, instead, ourselves.

Opportunity for Improvement
Today, with 20 more years of experience under my belt than I had then, I believe Sarni’s statement is an absolutely accurate one. It only requires people to be brutally honest with themselves and see things how they really are in the world of business in order to agree. Great opportunity for improvement comes with this realization, as we control every issue that causes us to be our own competition. Many fail to take advantage of this opportunity because they find it more comforting and less of a challenge to blame outside influences, such as the economy, the government, imports, bad competitors, bad customers and more, for their business failures.

Bankruptcy expert Bobby Guy, an attorney with Waller/Landsen in Nashville, Tenn., recently made a presentation called “The Top Ten Reasons Companies That Should Make It Don’t” to an MBA audience at Belmont University in Nashville. Topping his list was the following: management living in complete denial of doing anything wrong.

Taking Responsibility
To take immediate responsibility and eliminate your stiffest competition, answer the following questions and then take appropriate action:
1. Do we produce a product and/or service that fulfills a need felt by the customer?

2. Is our product and/or service reliable, as seen and felt by the customer?

3. Do we establish and maintain partnerships with our customers through the provision of value-added services that go well beyond our core product and/or service?

4. Do we maintain an aggressive, professional outside sales team that excels at maintaining close customer relationships, noting that such relationships are to prove our unparalleled abilities to be responsive to customers’ needs, create assurance, solve problems, listen and provide empathy?

5. Do we have the ability to be price-competitive in relation to the performance of our products and/or services and have the means to measure our performance from the customer perspective?

6. Do we plan ahead of current market trends, looking to improve operations, products and services beyond what the customer expects?

7. Do we maintain a corporate climate and culture that solicits, rewards and reacts to employee input and feedback, as seen from the perspective from the lowest ranking personnel?

Please note, these questions are directed at a company’s employees—not necessarily top management, as the chasm that exists between how each question is answered by top management and employees is, most often, quite large; it’s the customer and employee responses that carry all the weight.

As I’ve utilized the above seven questions, the most interesting thing I’ve learned is that the top-performing companies that continue to grow revenue and profit even during the toughest of economic times each answered “no” to the majority of the questions. Did this indicate that they were lacking in those areas receiving this vote? Actually, they out-performed their outside competitors while actually rating higher than they believed. Lying at the root of their negative vote was, first, their belief of the vital nature of the subject under question and, second, their belief that there was always room for improvement.

Aha! What honesty! What a great understanding of what it truly takes to excel! What a quick and efficient way to eliminate the competition! No wonder these companies rise to the top of their industries.

Carl Tompkins is the global AGR marketing resource manager for SIKA Corp. in Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash. Mr. Tompkins’ opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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