As a teenager I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a gentleman (we will call him Bob) who had taken his oil change business from nothing to a multimillion dollar success. The gentleman started with an old beat up pickup truck and a 55 gallon drum in the back. He traveled to doctor’s offices and sold his services for changing the oil in the doctor’s car right there in the office parking lot. He would put the contact information for the doctor’s office on an index card and file it away by month when the service was performed. Three months later he would pull up the index cards from all his clients in that month and contact them to see if they would like the oil changed in their parking lot again. He moved from doctors to other professionals and then to parking garages. He slowly added more customers, trucks, and employees. Bob’s business revenue exceeded $1 million within two years.
There are several lessons to be learned from Bob.
1. Know your customer’s need
An oil change is a simple task but it takes time to either do it yourself or take your car to someone who can do it for you. Bob realized that doctors don’t have a lot of free time on their hands and they are willing to pay a little extra for the convenience and saved time. Put yourself in your customer’s mind and try to understand what simple item you can provide for them. Don’t assume that you know what they need. Ask them. Develop, train, and ingrain the process of asking customers what they need into every aspect of your service, product, and employees.
2. Communicate early and clearly
Bob used an index card to keep track of his customers. He called them every three months to confirm the next appointment. Customers expect us to communicate with them. Define a standard time in how you will respond to your customers. When a customer calls and leaves a voicemail, have your voicemail state you will respond within one business day. Call the customer back within 4 hours. When a customer sends you an email, have the auto responder state that you will respond to their email with one business day. Email the customer back within 2 hours. These are just examples and you set the standard response time and the actual response time for your business. When you set these standards you are setting an expectation with the customer which tells the customer 1) he/she does not have to follow up and 2) you are exceeding their expectation. This makes for a happy customer.
3. Standardize your processes
Bob knew that his customers expected certain actions to be completed as a follow up to his communication. Regardless of the industry that you serve, there are going to be a standard set of actions that you complete over and over again. Sales representatives will have to complete customer visits and sales orders. Your procurement team will need to ensure that replacement stock is ordered before you run out of inventory. You must take the time to sit down with your staff and outline each step that must be taken all the way from sales to order fulfillment. Once you do, you will find inefficiencies in your process that will save your employees time and speed up delivery to the customer. More importantly, you can define how long it takes for each item to be completed and establish service level agreements with your staff and with your customer. These service level agreements will allow you to confidently tell your customer that you can call them back with X hours or days. They will allow you to confidently tell customers that their product or service will be delivered on Y date. Consistent results that exceed customer expectation leads to satisfied customers.
Completing each of these three exercises will improve your customer satisfaction and speed up your daily operations. Good luck and let me know if you need any help with these.