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October 9, 2009
Customer Service

Each Spring I have an opportunity to attend an entrepreneurial conference on the campus of MIT.  I’ve been going to this conference now for 8 years and have become friends with many of the 100 or so participants (none of whom are in the electronics business...if that tells you anything about our industry)...
I go to the conference to learn about business in general but specifically I go to learn how and why a well managed business stands apart from a poorly managed business. The one question that I keep asking other business people is,"what is it that you do at your company that differentiates you from your competition?" 
From this one question, I can usually determine if a business owner or employee really understands his/her business or whether they’re just "winging it". 
In answering this question, I usually get a full range of explanations,,but one consistent answer that comes up time and time again is "we differentiate ourselves from our competition by offering outstanding customer service"... 
There are very few universally accepted truths in this world...but a company truly believing that they offer "truly outstanding customer service" is one of them...it reminds me of Steve Martin telling Rick Moranis in "My Blue Heaven"... "everyone thinks that they have a sense of humor...but most people really don’t".
The fact is...very few organizations provide memorable customer service to their clients.  Outstanding customer service is the organization’s ability to serve every customer as if they were the business’s ONLY customer...treating each and every customer the way that they want to be treated...anticipating the needs of the customer BEFORE the customer knows that they have a need...this is rarely the case for most businesses.
Providing an incredible customer experience is very hard to do...it’s very costly in terms of money and time...and it takes leadership at the top of the organization to drive the ideal at every level of an organization...and because of the high costs, only the most dedicated companies with highest gross margins can afford to offer such service...but a lot of people will gladly pay the price to be treated well... 
At a Ritz-Carlton hotel, each staff member has been given the authority to spend up to $2,000 to satisfy a customer’s need.  Can you imagine that same type of commitment at Delta Airlines?...(although I bet if you talked to the CEO of Delta...he’ll tell you that it’s Delta’s dedicated customer service that differentiates Delta from the other airlines)  
I’m not trying to pick on the airlines, but they’re easy targets when you think of horrendous customer service they provide.  Can you even imagine what it would be like if Ritz Carlton ran an airline? 
Great customer service isn’t just about being polite or courteous..  If this was the case, then every interaction with a credit card call center in India would be a delight.  The people on the phone there are so damn nice no matter how frustrated and rude their callers become.  On most occasions, the customer service rep can rarely help me solve my immediate problem...but that said...they are incredibly polite letting me know that actually helping me to solve my particular problem is totally beyond their control.
Customer service is personal to most people.  What delights one person might repulse another.  Generally speaking though, great customer service is about solving a customers immediate needs and then going a step beyond their needs to offer something more...something unexpected...something unique...
Attracting a new customer is 10 times more expensive than keeping a current customer.  So doesn’t it make sense for an organization to do everything in its power to keep its current customers happy and coming back?...especially in this economy!
Providing incredible customer service is a continuous process process, but one that starts with you...regardless of what role you play at your company.  One of my favorite stories about customer service is "Johnny the Bag Boy"...if you haven’t seen the clip before, please click here.
Johnny’s story is about how everyone in an organization makes a difference.  So can you...

Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse as we try to improve our company each and every day...because we believe that you deserve to be treated better! 

Jim Kalb


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