As published on Forbes.com
Each element of a business has to work seamlessly together to produce repeat and referral business that comes from happy customers. During two recent situations with retailers, I had experiences that can happen across all types of businesses. We recently purchased a new upright freezer from one store, and a washer/dryer pair from another big-box store. In each case, we had a very positive experience with the salesperson in the store. This is very similar to how it might happen with business-to-business customers. Lowe’s Home Improvement delivered a great experience from end-to-end. The other store, despite a great commitment to customer service and sales, delivered the disaster when sales and execution are not aligned. See how these situations apply to your business, and follow the steps I outline at the end of the article to help you avoid your own disasters.
Lowe’s contacted us multiple times to set expectations for delivery of our freezer. Upon arrival, the delivery person was pleasant, and put booties on his feet and covers on the floors to ensure they didn’t damage anything. He removed the doors from the hinges, and explained that although there was sufficient room, he wanted to be sure he didn’t scratch anything.
After installation, he asked, “Can you please confirm that nothing in your home was scratched or damaged?” These folks were professionals. We received two subsequent phone calls: One to confirm the delivery was successful, and then a couple of days later to confirm that everything was in perfect working order.
“Our Centralized Delivery is designed to provide consistent communications with our customers, said Karen Cobb, Spokesperson for Lowe’s.
Karen further explained, “At the time of purchase, the customer selects the date and a four-hour window of time for the delivery. The day before the delivery, we call the customer to confirm a two-hour window… On the day of the delivery, [we] let them know 30 minutes before the delivery. With centralized delivery, we’re able to validate the communications.” With the simple delivery of a freezer, my wife commented at how professional and courteous they were.
We ordered an Electrolux washer and dryer pair at a different home improvement store. The salesperson in the store did a great job ensuring that we knew what was required for the installation. When the delivery date came, the installer said, “I can’t install it here.” Keep in mind that we had already confirmed the details with the salesperson in advance.
After sending photos to a supervisor they confirmed that the install could proceed as planned. However, the delivery guy had left without telling anyone. The store that sold us the product struggled to get a resolution. It seems that they contracted with one company for logistics, who subcontracted to another for delivery, who subcontracted to another vendor for installations. Since they had contracted beyond their own control, they were of little help despite their best intentions. They finally installed the units the next day.
As fate would have it, less than 24 hours after delivery, the dryer died. Electrolux suggested they could send a technician to perform a repair. Thankfully, the home improvement store decided to replace the dryer, but that means another week of waiting. These sorts of problems can happen in any business. In this case, Electrolux has a good history of reliability and service which made their response a bit surprising. Electrolux was not available for comment.
Prevent Disasters In Your Business
There are several steps you can take in your business to avoid delivering a disaster:
1. Maintain Control: Though it might seem easy to contract out for various services, realize that your customers experience your service via your subcontractors. If you put too many layers between you and the customer, you can easily struggle to solve a real customer issue quickly and efficiently. Lowe’s took on their own centralized delivery to avoid those gaps in communication;
2. Communicate Expectations: It is not enough that your salespeople and the customer discuss expectations. You need to pass those expectations along to your execution team. Use something like the Same Side Quadrants to ensure that you maintain clear communication between sales, the customer, and execution.
3. Set Standards For Service Excellence: Problems will happen. If you are in the business of selling a product that gets used seven days per week, you probably should have a process to solve customer issues over the weekend. Normal business hours don’t apply if you sell to consumers. Define a method of escalation to resolve the most severe missteps.
4. Anticipate Problems: Problems will arise, and if you define what happens in a given situation, then your team can follow the playbook and deliver success. The delivery folks from Lowe’s probably learned that protecting floors and removing doors from hinges leads to fewer claims and more happy customers. If you don’t think of everything that can lead to a less than stellar experience, then you are stacking the deck against yourself. Ask your people in the field what they see as potential problems and how to solve them.
For Sales Professionals
Your job is not done when the sale is made. As my research shows, clients don’t see the finish line as the sale. They see the finish line as getting results. Top sales professionals take the time to communicate customer expectations and follow-through with the client to ensure success. When you follow-up with the customer to ensure satisfaction, you get repeat and referral business. It’s that simple.
For The Leadership Team
As a leader, recognize where you might be creating barriers for internal communication and for customer feedback. Are you putting too many levels of separation between you and your customer? If so, you might not be able to resolve issues before they blow up. As Jay Baer notes in Hug Your Haters, when you take a negative situation and resolve it beautifully, you actually create a memorable, positive experience. If you don’t respond in a timely manner to a customer problem, your lack of appropriate response actually makes matters even worse. Problems will come up. Your goal is to get on the same side as your customer to find a resolution that ensures they have a great experience. Though you might see efficiencies in creating rules for customer support and execution, recognize that each customer situation might be unique, and could require creativity and common sense.
It’s Your Turn
When has a company taken a negative situation and turned it into a positive? When has a minor issue blown up because of how they handled addressing the problem?