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Communication is key

Oct 1, 2010 12:00 AM

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Recently, I was hit hard by a customer service experience that provides an example for all business owners.

My son and I took a “banana boat” ride (water tubing for 10 people at a time) while on vacation. The employee working the concession barked orders at us: “You need to shower before you get on the boat. Give me your glasses, hat and anything else you have.”

I explained that I can't see without my prescription sunglasses and joked that without a hat, the sun would burn my head. “Do you think I can wear them as we drive out to the tubing area?”

She looked offended, and said, “Well, you are better off leaving your glasses here and seeing for the rest of the day than losing them, aren't you? The hat needs to go. I will do you a favor and put your stuff in my car so nothing happens.”

I couldn't get on that boat blind, no matter how she felt about it. She silently accepted everything but my glasses.

The two people working the boat were very polite. The driver explained that I could not wear my glasses on board because we were going to be dragged out from the dock on the tube.

Why didn't the first employee say that? Customer service people make or break the deal.

Lessons learned:

  1. Be careful about who works directly with customers. They might be blowing deals before you have a chance to know about it. The best customer service people are other-centered, patient and attentive. What about prepress or graphic arts people who might not be trained in customer service skills? Be careful.

  2. Don't assume prospects and customers know the reasons why you do what you do. I now know why I could not bring my glasses and hat, but the employee did not listen to me, explain and communicate the reasons. Do print buyers know why you do what you do?

  3. Customer service representatives must start with communicating, before you can show what your product or service does. It all starts with connecting in the way your customers prefer. Be flexible and change your communication approach to fit your customer.

  4. No product or service is so good that customers will put up with arrogance to get it. The banana boat staff was excellent and made it a memorable trip, but they nearly lost this customer on dry land.

Printers are not in the business of churning out product, but customer service. Printing companies are like any other competitive business. The end product is important, but customers want to buy from those with whom they can connect.

Michael Casey is president and founder of Survey Advantage. He is a strategic partner with NAPL supporting its consulting and research practices, he integrates project surveying with MIS systems and he is an approved supplier for several franchise networks.