by Joseph and JoAnn Callaway, authors of “Clients First“
We all know terrible service when we experience it. There’s just no denying how bad it feels when your meal is plopped down by an unrepentant server an hour after you ordered… or when a pushy car dealer turns ice cold when he realizes his attempt to upsell you isn’t working… or when a retail store associate blatantly ignores you while sucking up to the (obviously) wealthier customer who breezed in behind you. But what about those other times, when your experience isn’t reprehensible but nonetheless leaves you feeling a bit out of sorts?
That slightly irritated feeling probably means you’ve been underserved — and that isn’t okay.
Americans put up with an awful lot of adequate, mediocre service experiences when we really should expect more. It’s a shame, because any time you part with your hard-earned money, you deserve 100 percent of the company’s respectful attention.
We’re passionate about outstanding service. We built our thriving real estate business — a rarity in an industry that’s had more than its share of challenges — by making the customer’s needs their top priority every day, and in every situation. To date, Those Callaways has sold over a billion dollars’ worth of homes and has been the market leader in our area for years (and we never ask for referrals!).
We credit 100 percent of our success to our Clients First revelation. It opened our eyes to the Three Keys of putting clients first: honesty, competence, and caring. They are what customers always deserve and what they should use to rate any type of business transaction.
If one of the keys is missing, you are being underserved.
Here are three questions, corresponding to the Three Keys, that you should ask the next time you rent a car, purchase clothing, visit your accountant, or contract with any company for any product or service (These also comprise a good guide for examining the service you provide to your own clients!):
KEY QUESTION #1: Were they honest with me?
This may seem like a simple yes-or-no question with clear consequences. But as there are a million ways to be dishonest — and none of them are acceptable.
Individuals or even entire companies can mislead, stretch the truth, omit certain facts, exaggerate, or tell ‘harmless’ white lies. Usually, these small dishonesties are told to benefit the company or salesperson, perhaps to make more money, to cover up mistakes, or to avoid an uncomfortable conversation. But the end result is the same: You, the customer, are underserved and are not able to make a fully informed decision.
As a matter of fact, JoAnn and I had our Clients First revelation while wrestling with which version of the truth to tell. Should we sell a home that would have uncomfortably stretched the buyer’s finances and caused the seller to accept less than they should? We could have kept our mouths shut, but we ultimately decided to tell both parties that the transaction was a mistake. That’s what you should look for in all business situations: a company that trusts you with the whole truth and that holds your best interests above profits, pride, or convenience.
Here’s what to ask yourself:
• Were they concerned with giving me a full understanding of the facts?
• Did they tell me only what I wanted to hear?
• Did they withhold information that might have swayed my decision?
• Were they “creative” with the truth?
• Were they forthright and unhesitant in answering my questions?
• Did they own up to mistakes or try to sidestep or cover them up?
KEY QUESTION #2: Did they do the job right? (Or, did they give me a good product?)
When you visit your hairdresser, mechanic, financial planner, dentist, mortgage loan officer, or just about any other professional, you’ll see framed professional certifications and/or diplomas on display. Likewise, retailers who sell everything from groceries to clothing to cars are quick to advertise what makes them better than the competition. But don’t give your business away because of an impressive piece of paper or a newly remodeled store. Education, passed exams, bells, and whistles aren’t enough: To truly serve you well, an individual or company must be competent.
Whatever their industry or job description, all professionals are in business to make your life easier, better, fuller, safer, and so forth. If that outcome doesn’t occur, you’re being underserved. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t bear with the young rookie who replaced your newly retired accountant while she finds her professional feet. But do rethink your relationship with a five- or ten-year industry veteran who makes the same types of mistakes. Overall, don’t become so attached to the status quo that convenience and routine trump competency. You deserve quality and value.
Here’s what to ask yourself:
• Am I almost always satisfied with — or even pleasantly surprised by — this product or service?
• Do I often make excuses for why a product or service might be subpar? (For example, I know Dr. Smith has a lot going on in his personal life right now, so I’ll let his distracted attitude slide.)
• How does this person or company stack up against the competition? (If you don’t know the answer, do some research!)
• If continuing education is available, does this person or company take advantage of it?
• Does this person or company anticipate my needs, or do I have to spell out what I want?
• What happens if a product is defective or if a mistake is made?
• Is this person (and/or her associates) able to answer my questions and effectively help me if I have a problem? Does this happen in a timely manner?
KEY QUESTION #3: Do they care about me?
This may be the trickiest prong of the “Clients First” trifecta. After all, even if the process is sometimes uncomfortable or inconvenient, organizations can wrap their metaphorical brains around telling the truth and doing their jobs well. However, even the most well-meaning businessperson is likely to tell you that his driving force is growing the company and making money.
Your experience as a customer will always be lacking unless the company in question makes working toward your best interests — not pocketing your money — its first priority. A caring individual or organization might not say outright that you are Priority Number One, but they will demonstrate it. You’ll be able to tell where you stand by how a business deals with questions and issues, how it offers opinions and input, and the lengths to which it will go on your behalf. Most of all, you’ll be able to tell when a business truly cares because your loyalty to it will match its devotion to you. No other company will be able to compare!
Here’s what to ask yourself:
• Am I treated more like a person or a number?
• More like a “priority” or an “obligation”?
• Do I ever get the feeling that I’m a second-class citizen compared to other clients or customers?
• To what extent are my desires, preferences, and goals taken into account? How much effort does this individual or company make to discover what they are?
• Does this individual or company act like my champion when solving problems?
• When I complain about something, does the company make a sincere effort to “make it right”? Or does their apology feel like obligatory “lip service”?
• Is this individual or company willing to disagree with me when I have a bad idea?
• Is our relationship all business, or is this individual or company interested in me as a person, too?
• Does the commonly uttered phrase “Thank you for your business!” have the ring of sincerity?
• Would this individual or company be willing to make less money in order to protect my personal interests?
• Would I recommend this individual or company to a loved one?
If asking for honesty, competence, and caring sounds selfish, it’s not. You, the customer, are every business’s reason for being. That said, we don’t live in a perfect world, and it’s a rare thing to come across an organization that holds all of the Three Keys, whole and complete. So, what should you do when you realize you’ve been underserved?
If your not-so-stellar customer service experience was a one-time occurrence, talk to the company about what happened and how you feel, and give them a chance to make things right. Hopefully, they’ll jump at the opportunity. Many things that are now standard procedure for Those Callaways first came into being because a customer called our attention to a ball we had inadvertently dropped.
If a business habitually fails to provide one or more of the Three Keys, though, move on… and don’t feel guilty!
The ability to vote with your wallet is a fundamental part of what makes our free enterprise system free. If enough people took this approach instead of sticking with (and silently resenting) the status quo, we could change the face of customer service in America!
Joseph Callaway and JoAnn Callaway are coauthors of “Clients First: The Two Word Miracle” and founders of the real estate company Those Callaways.