The other night my husband and I were out doing errands. We had a long “to-do” list and it was getting late, so we decided to grab a quick bite at a local restaurant: one of those restaurants where you order at the counter and they call your name when your food is ready. After waiting for longer than we were used to, my husband went up to the counter, and after some discussion, came back with our food, and an unhappy look on his face. In a frustrated tone of voice he said, “They got my order wrong. I wanted my ribs dry, but they have sauce on them.” Just as he was saying that, the manager appeared at our table, “Sir,” he said, “I’m very sorry for the mistake. We’ll be happy to fix the problem and make you a new order right now.”
“Not an unusual story”, you may be thinking to yourself. “Similar thing has happened to me before.” And I’m sure it has! If you’re the owner of a service company, or you work in one, you might also be thinking, “What’s wrong with mistakes? Sometimes something goes wrong, a mistake happens and then it gets fixed. After all, we’re human beings and we don’t always do things perfectly all the time. Customers understand that.” Unfortunately, we come from a service culture in which making mistakes is an expected – and accepted – part of the process. I once even worked for a service organization that told its customer service reps that making a mistake wasn’t a problem, not apologizing and then fixing the mistake promptly and courteously for the customer was!!!
Problem is, however, making an initial mistake for a customer is a problem. And especially in a service organization, it’s a big one. And if you’re a small service organization, it’s a really big problem. Here’s why:
- Customers want what they want, when they want it, exactly the way they want it, and that is the reason they choose your service organization. From the moment they walk in your door, or even before (my husband was talking about how much he was looking forward to those ribs all evening), they are happily anticipating “getting what they want, exactly the way they want it” and when that does not happen, they are disappointed and unhappy. And no service organization wants a disappointed and unhappy customer.
- A disappointed and unhappy customer might not choose to use your service again. They simply might decide to go elsewhere. In this day and age, with a plethora of choices immediately accessible in the cell phone they are holding in the palm of their hand, it’s easy for them to find another service provider similar to you. Even if they don’t seem unhappy or disappointed or make a complaint. Like my husband. He simply said to the manager, “Don’t worry about it. I’m in a hurry, so I’ll just eat this one. It’s really okay.” But it really wasn’t, because he complained to me the whole rest of the meal! Many people are polite and don’t like to complain. Instead of complaining, they simply take their business elsewhere. When unhappy customers switch without complaining, I call that ‘voting with their feet’.
- And when unhappy customers switch, whether they complain or not, it’s bad for your business. According to Marketing Metrics, it’s about 50 % easier to sell to existing customers than to new ones. And, according to Bain and Co., a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by 75%. (Read more here)
So, in my opinion and experience, although of course it is important to fix any problems that do occur for customers, it’s even more important – in fact it’s critical – to create systematic ways of delivering your service processes that prevent problems from occurring in the first place so that our customers stay happy and would never even think of switching providers. Like the old saying says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In lean terms we call this ‘building in quality at the source’. A good example of this that you are probably already familiar with are online ordering systems that don’t allow customers to submit an order without completing all fields needed to process the order correctly. In my husband’s case, perhaps the cashier who took the order could have repeated it back for correctness; or perhaps there could be special color coding or check-boxes created on special order forms – some way to help the cook who received the special order easily notice something needed to be different. If you’re a taxi company and drivers are missing picking up rides on time because they have flat tires, how about designing a proactive tire maintenance program?
Whatever services your organization provides to your customers, I can guarantee that with a little creativity, you and your team can find ways of ‘building in quality’ in both your ‘human’ systems and your computer systems, so that you can prevent mistakes BEFORE they happen. As a service organization, part of your purpose has to be providing your customers what they want, when they want it, right the first time. And once you prevent mistakes from happening, think how happy, satisfied and loyal your customers will be!
What is your service organization doing to prevent mistakes for customers from happening? I’d love to hear your creative ideas!