I am not sure what has happened to customer service lately. While there are definitely some businesses that are getting it right, most are missing the point of how vital the customer experience is to business growth in this new economy – the Trust & Value Economy!

Last week I had an appointment with a business that I frequent pretty regularly. If you asked them, I would be considered a local who is definitely a repeat client. My appointment was for 2:30, and I got there early (as they requested), checked in, and the nice receptionist told me that Susan would be right up to get me. As I sat there glancing at a magazine, I noticed my watch now said 2:40 and still no Susan. At 2:45 a woman walked up the stairs with another client and proceeded to show her some additional products and services (while the two receptionists stood at the desk talking). With the sale of two products complete, this same woman grabbed a file, turned to me, introduced herself as Susan and politely asked me to follow her. Again, I glanced at my watch and it was now 2:55.

Let me share that time is precious to me: one of, if not the, top priority for me. Even if it wasn’t, I was still amazed at how oblivious everyone was that I had sat there for twenty-five minutes past my scheduled time, while they served another client. Even though I have never been to one of their team meetings, I can tell you, as a coach and strategist, I know they spend far more time covering “how to sell” than “how to serve.” I know that the message the employee is hearing from leadership is to sell products and services, first and foremost. How do I know that? Because employees do, for the most part, what their leadership tells them to do. It was obvious from the employees’ actions that the message coming from the top is “sales before service,” as I was now running close to thirty minutes behind schedule.

As we finished my appointment and headed up the stairs, Susan began the same routine with me. I glanced out the corner of my eye and saw another client sitting in the same chair I had occupied earlier, looking at a magazine with an annoyed expression. I kindly refused any products or additional services, and suggested, rather boldly, that perhaps they should take care of their client, who had obviously been waiting.

Now again, as a coach and speaker/trainer, I have so many thoughts and ideas on how that scenario should have gone; how they could have both sold additional products to their client, and still managed to be focused and invested in their next client’s experience. And while I am the first to tell you that sales are key to profitability in a business, sales should never be done at the expense of the client experience. Sales begins and ends with customer service. In the Trust & Value Economy, how the customer feels and thinks and what they say about your business and your employees is the difference between thriving in this economy or merely surviving. While customer service has always mattered, it has never been more key to the growth of your business than in this economy — the Trust & Value Economy. An economy where what you offer is a commodity, but how you offer it, the experience your clients have, is your competitive advantage.

So how do you position your company to provide an amazing customer experience? How do you make the customer experience the key to the growth of your company?

1. Invest — in your employees and in yourself: sign up for some customer experience training. How can you or your employees possibly be responsible for delivering an exceptional experience when you are not even sure you know how to do it? The money and time you spend on customer experience training and development will have some of the highest return on investment you receive. Whether it is done at your place of business, through classes, or just by reading a top notch book with your team — whatever your budget allows — get focused on learning how to deliver an amazing experience. It was clear to me that Susan and her team had been through sales training; they were good. However, without investing first and often in customer experience training, their sales training will not yield half the rate of return it could.

2. Little Stuff – it matters. When what you offer is a commodity, how you offer it is where the customer experience happens. Offering me a cup of coffee or some water; letting me know that Susan is running fifteen minutes behind before I show up for my appointment; giving me the opportunity to run an extra errand; offering to take me down and get me started while Susan finishes up; or taking over Susan’s client for her; all of those things would have turned a bad client experience into an amazing client experience. Little things take, well, so little, but the impact on the experience your customer has is huge.

3. Customer’s View – how you experience your business and how your customer experiences your business, well let me be the first to tell you: it is different. And while what you think about your business matters, it does not matter nearly as much as what your customers think. You need to change your view now and then to experience your business through their eyes. You need to walk through and be a customer; you need to ask your customers; you need to get their ideas and opinions on new ideas and strategies you are trying. If you can afford it, secret shoppers are fantastic for providing wonderful feedback and information. I guarantee you that Susan and her team are oblivious to the fact that I did not have an exceptional experience, and in fairness to them, why would they? They only see the business from their perspective. However, if they took the time to walk through their business from the “other side,” they would learn a tremendous amount about how to enhance the customer experience to drive business growth.

This is a Trust & Value Economy, and in this type of economy you must hold on to the business you have, and use it to fuel the new business you want. So I know you are wondering: am I still a client there? No,  I will not be returning to that company where I was a fairly regular customer. Why? Because I don’t have to. It is that simple. I want more for my money and I know I can get it.  While the product they delivered was solid, how they deliver it has changed. I feel sure that in this competitive environment, I can find another company more than willing to truly put the customer first.

Prospect Conversions from Down Under