Let’s talk about Love

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Seriously? Love in business? It doesn’t belong there!

We often think of business as just an enterprise for providing a product or service, earning income and making a profit. And it would seem out of place to bring such a warm, emotional and moral concept like love into it. However, this stems from a misunderstanding of both love and business.

Let’s start with love.

What is love? Love isn’t just a feeling, however warm and exciting. Love is rational. It is the deliberate regard for another person’s wellbeing. In the words of the British writer C.S. Lewis, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”  So love isn’t getting excited about a member of the opposite sex or having tingling sensations within your tummy when he or she approaches. We also shouldn’t think of love as condoning wrong behaviour or overlooking poor performance. Love is simply desiring another person’s good; it is the attitude of looking or seeking to benefit someone else. This could be a spouse, a friend, or a neighbour. It could also be a boss, an employee, or a customer. Therefore love can include discipline or rebuke, where it is intended to make a person better. And it can involve refusing to grant a request or favour where this will cause the person harm.

We come now to business. Is business just about goods and services, revenue and profit? Well, not really. At its core, business is about people – human beings. Business involves meeting their needs and furthering their welfare. When we produce clothing, manufacture domestic items, provide health insurance, assemble cars, educate children, impart workplace skills, and engage in retail trade, we are providing value to people. In an earlier post, I referred to the classic statement on the purpose of business by Jeff Van Duzer, Provost of the Seattle Pacific University in the USA. He stated this as follows:

Business exists to create opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identity in meaningful and creative work. And it exists in order to produce goods and services that would enable the community to flourish.

When we look at business in this way, it becomes immediately apparent that business is about people. True, we need to understand the mechanics of cost, price, strategy, and management in order for a business to function well. But we must not mistake the tools for the goal. The goal of business – any business – remains the people.  Shareholders own a business. Employees work for the business. Vendors work with the business. Customers are served by the business. Everywhere you look you see people. And the principle for relating with people, which is to love them as oneself, has to be applied in dealing with these different groups. Shareholders are to be loved by managing the business profitably. Employees can be loved through fair and humane workplace policies and practices. Customers should be loved by ensuring our products are of good quality and that our processes and systems make it easy to interact with the organization. What about the larger community? One obvious way is by ensuring that we do not pollute the environment in the course of our business operation.

So does this look like love belongs in business? It most certainly does.

Customer Service begins at the top

Top Executive at work

One of the frustrating experiences of a Customer Service representative is having an expectation or directive from the company’s top management to offer excellent service to customers yet receiving no real commitment from the same management. The company as a whole has no realistic customer oriented vision or mission, it lacks a strategy for truly satisfying her customers, and feedback from customers is never taken seriously unless it’s about to degenerate into a PR crisis.

The global drive towards excellent customer service has been on now for no less than two decades, yet for many companies, it’s still just an issue for a department. The company is yet to grasp that customer satisfaction is not an aspect of the business; it is the business. We simply cannot offer excellent service unless the whole company believes in it and aligns all – I mean all – her processes, goals, and decisions toward this aim. It affects every department. Finance should believe this, HR should buy into it, and Operations should practice it. And the key driver of the whole process has to be top management. If they neglect this or merely offer shoddy support, you might as well close the Customer Service department and tell your customers to go elsewhere. And, believe me, they have options.

The company’s top management must not just preach excellent customer service, it must not just state on the company’s website or corporate documents that “Our customer is our priority”, or some similar cliché. It must show this commitment to the customer in how it designs its products, processes, and systems. The security official at the gate must understand that the customer really is king and not treat every potential one like a possible terrorist. The front line personnel should be confident that she can really go the extra mile for a customer and not be held back by an antiquated ‘policy’.

So much more can be done, but it starts with management really believing in customer service.

 

 

Marketing is about Value

Marketing is the lifeblood of every business. It is the fuel which keeps the engine running. Without customers, the business would close shop.

We often think about this aspect of business as the activity of bringing in customers. While this is true, it goes beyond that. The core term which captures all that marketing is about is the word Value. And this refers to the benefit which the firm or company or business provides for those it serves. It is the heart of every business.

The popular paradigm for discussing marketing is the marketing mix (shown below), which shows the interaction among the 4 concepts of Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement.

mix

 

Central to all these concepts or activities is value. Determining the nature of product or service to be provided, how it is to be communicated to the target market, the price at which it is to be offered, as well as the means by which it is made available to consumers – all revolve around the core benefit which the business is providing.  Keeping this concept central helps us think clearly and make better customer-oriented decisions.

When Service fails

service-recovery

Customers don’t expect you to be perfect.

They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.

–Donald Porter

It is not news that service sometimes fails. A client’s complaint is not responded to. A test result is delayed at the hospital. Your mechanic forgets to change the oil in your car. Service does fail. The crucial factor is what an organization or individual does about it. This is what proves that one is truly service oriented. According to Kristin Baird of the Baird Group, the real test of excellence is when a bad experience is honestly addressed and swiftly turned around. How then can a business go about recovering the goodwill and satisfaction of her customers after a service failure? The essential thing about service recovery is to have a plan before the failure occurs and ensure that the service representatives understand the process.

And such a plan would include the following:

  • Invite and encourage your customers to express their discontent. Provide channels like toll-free lines, complaint boxes, mail boxes, where customers can easily voice out their perceived problems with your business or service process. In addition, listen for off hand comments and remarks which could be pointers to defects in your system. A comment like, “I wish there were more tellers at this branch” could indicate that your bank customers are underserved.

  • Don’t wait for customers to complain; examine your existing process and look for possible areas of service failure. When you discover these points, act promptly to correct them.

  • When service actually goes bad, the first thing to do is apologize. I know many companies discourage their staff from apologizing too quickly. This is because, it is believed, apologizing would imply you admit you are wrong and could make you liable should the customer decide to sue you. However, let’s consider this for a minute. What happens if you do not apologize? You lose a customer, and probably lots more through negative publicity. Besides, if you were actually wrong, it’s simple courtesy (and respect) to apologize. And remember, Business IS about people (your customers) and not your ego. So apologize for the bad experience and move on to the next step.

  • Get the issue resolved promptly. Find out what went wrong and fix it. It makes no sense for a tailor, for instance, to damage my beautiful ankara outfit, and offer a hymn to me in apology, without thinking of how to correct the damage. Or imagine your bank wrongly debiting your account and sending you a nicely written ‘We are Sorry’ card, with no mention that the error has been reversed. It simply doesn’t count.

  • Close the loop and give feedback to the customer. When service fails, the customer wants to know it’s been corrected. So let her know. Don’t keep her wondering whether she should switch to someone else. Make her believe you know what you are doing and that she can give you another chance.

The Steward

We do not really own anything. Our possessions, relationships, and time. They are all on loan to us from God, who is their true owner. And this leads to the responsibility to use them wisely and properly. This is stewardship, and it is the foundation for business and service.

Business is the creation and distribution of a product or service for the benefit of people.
We provide food, clothing, and Ipads because they are useful to people. We render Stewardshipservices like laundry, insurance, and hair styling because someone derives benefit from them. In carrying this out, we utilize resources such as skill, money, and time. Since these are not ultimately ours, they must not be abused. We would not mistreat our staff and employees, but rather respect them and encourage their growth and development as humans. We would respect our customers’ and employees’ time which are a vital element in the production process. What about vendors and investors? We would honour our commitments to vendors and manage well the funds received from investors and shareholders.

We should serve our customers well because even the opportunity to serve them is a God-given gift. We are stewards, and this is what stewards do.

It’s about your Customers

unhappy customer

Businesses exist for their customers. This obvious principle is one of the most difficult for modern organizations to truly get. Customers are confronted with a myriad of complicated procedures and processes for receiving a service. At the end, you wonder whether the business is a process laboratory rather than an entity designed to serve people.

It is essential that customers get the service they need without having to go through so much hassles of process and procedure. True, modern challenges like terrorism, money laundering, internet fraud, etc, might necessitate that companies adhere to certain regulations. And by implication, customers would also have to comply with certain requirements. However, a service oriented company would make these as minimal as possible. And it would also ensure that customers understand why certain requirements are made.

Above all, the service representatives should recognize and treat the customers as humans who should be loved and respected in every service encounter. For, without them, I repeat again, there would be no business.

Service – a Distinguishing factor

There is a bakery close to my house. I like going there weekly to buy bread. Although I have not been too fond of their service, I continue to patronize them because  the product is satisfactory and the store is just a walking distance.

This morning, my wife informed me another bakery might be opening some metres closer to our house. If I check them out when they do open and find that their bread (that’s the priority!) and their service are much better, what do you think I would do? Switch, of course.bread

Often, businesses become complacent and assume they have their customers for life. They forget they are in competition with other providers, both present and future. And while the product is excellent, they ignore the need to provide good service.

Businesses lose customers not just because their product is deficient, but also because their service is poor. And it is crucial they get this in order because service is the purpose of business after all.