Volume 13, Issue 6 - November/December 2011

Customer Service
tips for quality service

The Five-Point Foundation for Success
by Carl Tompkins

Long before you go to market with what you feel to be the very best of all products, make sure that your entire organization is prepared to meet (or even better, exceed) customer requirements within the five subject areas that I call “the five-point foundation for success.” I refer to them as the foundation because if your company fails at any one of the five, the business will collapse.

I first heard this list of five subjects in 1988 while attending a seminar conducted by renowned business consultant and author Tom Connellan. He presented these as the five buying factors that exist in the minds of customers. While Tom did an excellent job teaching the merit of each, he, like me, had to give credit where credit is due on this great discovery; that credit goes to Leonard L. Barry, a professor at Texas A&M University, who has devoted his career to studying what causes customers to buy.

To the Test
The first subject area is “reliability.” Do your products and services do what has been promised? Just as important, are the people within your organization reliable? Do they keep their commitments? If, for any reason, products, services or people fail to be reliable, no price is low enough to cause customers to buy. The mission of reliability starts and stops at the top of the organization.

Number-two on the list is “responsiveness.” How well does your organization size up in the minds of customers on quick, efficient and effective communications? In 2005 Consumer Reports conducted a consumer survey about what companies did best to earn customer loyalty. The leading response was that the best companies were those that resolved problems the quickest with the least amount of hassle. While solving problems efficiently makes up a major portion of responsiveness, routine customer communications also must be quick and attentive to needs.

The third subject is “assurance.” Simply put, customers in today’s fast-paced world of business are in fear of being left alone to survive without the help of their expert suppliers. Trust never has been more vital than in this current day and age. The more assurance companies provide, the greater the customer’s confidence and resulting referrals. A weak link in the assurance chain is that what often is promised never occurs. You must “walk your talk!” Remember, 65 percent of all business volume is a result of repeat business. Need I say more?

Fourth on the list is “empathy.” It is vital to demonstrate genuine concern for the customers’ feelings. This does not necessitate our agreement with the customer but instead provides the right for customers to feel the way they do. We’re all in the people business, and, until we properly and adequately address the personal needs of the customer through active listening and concern, we’ll never achieve the right to talk business.

The final subject is “tangibles.” Tangibles are the many items that come into play in the course of doing business. The list can be quite lengthy, which lends cause for management to pay attention to detail. Think of the things that help create the image of your company. To understand how well your company complies with this requirement, ask yourself, “Does my company represent an image with which customers would be proud to associate?” Categorically, the answer to this question should lead a company to assess its cleanliness, organization, ethics, functionality, quality, community, morale and professionalism. The key here is to concentrate on the little things that mean big things to customers. I’ve seen customers intentionally miss appointments because they saw weeds growing in a parking lot.

The above five points pertain to any organization—whether a business, association, church, or club. Ensuring that each of the five is perfected and maintained will allow for almost all goals to be attainable. The greatest building aspect of having such an excellent foundation is that you’ll never have cause to remodel; just the opportunity to add more square footage.

Carl Tompkins is the global marketing resources manager for SIKA Corp. in Madison Heights, Mich., and the author of “Winning at Business.” He is based in Spokane, Wash.

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