For a while I was trying to launch a consulting / contracting career where I’d go and work on-site doing technical work for companies for a few weeks at a time then move on to the next place. I read everything I could get my hands on about consulting, especially technical consulting. One idea I came across that I thought was great was that of “The Warm Fuzzy Feeling“. He has a bunch of great suggestions on the page I’ve linked to, but I think there’s an overriding idea. Your job, when you’re providing services for money, is to make sure the customer isn’t worried. If you accomplish this, anything else is minor details.
I recently flew out to Edmonton to visit the university there. My flight was before the subway started running in the morning, so I had to book a car to take me to the airport. I called the lowest priced place I could find on Google (hey, I’m Mr. Cheap remember?) and the guy who answered had a thick accent. I explained when my flight was, and where I was going (domestic, not international) and asked him what time he’d recommend a pick up for. He asked me what time I wanted to be picked up. I repeated where I was going, and asked him what he recommended to make sure I arrive on time. He said that they just picked up customers at whatever time the customer wanted.
At this point I’m having visions of panicking on the morning of my flight when no car shows up and I politely got off the phone with him and called the next lowest bidder. The woman who answered spoke clearly, immediately told me a time (and broke down how she got to that time in terms of traffic in the early morning and processing time for domestic flights). She said she goes out to Edmonton all the time, and says she always gets through the security check quickly. She recommended that I check out the casino while I’m out there.
I’m feeling the warm fuzzies. I book a wake up call from them (as a back up in case my three alarms fail) and am quite confident they’re going to get me to my flight. I compliment her (she encouraged me to call her boss and talk to him).
The morning of the flight, no wake up call. Fuzzies are dropping. I call the company and tell them I didn’t get a wake up call. The gentleman on the other end tells me my pick up time. I repeat that I was supposed to get a wake up call and didn’t and I just want to be sure that the car is coming. He tells me that there’s nothing in my file about a wake up call (no fuzzies). The car did come, and the driver was amazing, chatty and engaging the whole trip. Fuzzies were coming back. At the airport, I was planning to give him a pretty nice tip, and when he gives me the bill, its $10 more than quoted (fuzzies gone again). He was a nice guy and he gave me the quoted rate (after I made sure it wouldn’t come out of his pocket – I still gave him the tip I was planning on).
This company could have had a customer for life if they had just got the wake up call and the price right. Sometimes things go wrong (I understand that) and if they’d just immediately apologized for not making the wake up call and promised to look into it (lie to me, that’s ok) I’d have been fine too. They’ve got a service running at 99% of amazing, and then they screw it up. Stop offering wake up calls if you can’t make them reliably. Raise the rates you’re quoting people (I HATE when companies try to change what they’re billing me without warning).
Companies often look at providing the minimum acceptable service, arguing with customers about what is reasonable or not, or they look at changing things only when tons of people complain. I think the article I linked to hits on something of value when it talks about going beyond that. Smooth out the rough edges and get rid of the things that irritate customers (but not enough that they complain). Occasionally get a friend to use your service as an outsider and tell you how you can improve.
To clarify, I’m NOT saying “do whatever the customer wants at whatever price he wants to pay”. I’m saying keep an eye on the customer experience at your company, and continually remove things that irritate or worry them.
It always amazes me how companies market so aggressively (if you go on Google car rides to the Toronto airport seems to be a fairly competitive market), but then they couldn’t care less about your experience as a customer (which will determine whether you use them or a competitor in the future).
A book also along these lines is “Raving Fans” by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.