Out of Reach?

Key point: Company owners should strive to stay accessible to their customers.

Photo by my sister, Fatimeh Nadimi

Remember the “good ol’ days”? The days when cars had muscles and were covered in chrome so shiny you’d have to wear sunglasses in the garage? Days when everyone would hold the door open, and family meals were *always* home cooked. Ok, maybe I didn’t live in the fabled “good ol’ days” (despite the rumors, I’m fairly young still), but I miss them all the same.

What I don’t miss is the Middle Ages when the common cold could wipe out a village – that is if the endless supply of invading armies wouldn’t do it first. “Lucky” for us we are just a phone call away from truly barbaric conditions thanks to the help of most customer service departments. Love being shunned like you have leprosy? Great! A quick 1-800 call to a mega company of your choice, and you’ll be in a Spanish Inquisition dreamland in just a few seconds.

Companies work tirelessly to make sure taking your money is as easy as stealing candy from a baby, but call them for help and they’ll put you through an obstacle course that’ll defeat the toughest Navy seal. When a crook takes your money at least there is no implied notion that they will help resolve problems once the money leaves your hand. Some companies make getting help a nightmare – endless phone system menus, no call-in numbers, and a default “it’s your fault” attitude.

The “us versus them” style that is the guiding principle of so many customer service departments will kill a company like the plague. The rise of the internet and smart phones means that we are all connected and companies can no longer hide behind fancy logos and websites. It’s shocking that business owners put so much space between them and their customers. I do not understand why they have to go into hiding. Before an irate customer goes online and blows up at my company I WANT the chance to resolve the customer’s problem. Small companies are famous for treating their customers with respect. If you have a large company, this intimate feeling doesn’t have to be lost. One catch – you do have to work at it and make it a priority.

Let’s talk dollars and sense. I depend on my customers for my livelihood and I want them to love doing business with me so much that they keep me in business. To say it another way… you are NOT doing your customers any favors when they spend their money with you. It’s the other way around! Even if you are the CEO of a huge company (congrats, btw!), I can safely assume that you still have the capacity to resolve issues for your customers. You can personally hear your customer out, delegate it to the right person, and ensure it is done to the satisfaction of all parties. As “THE boss” you have more latitude than anyone else to make the customer happy. Imagine if their widget is broken and they really need it for the holiday season. Sure you can help them get a repair expedited but you could also send a free replacement or at least take care of the shipping. The few bucks won’t affect your bottom line, and you’ll money will literally be buying someone’s love for you and your company.

At Miss Pistol and Social Smoke we make it a point to be easy for customers to contact us at all times. I personally make every effort to be extremely accessible at all times. As I worked on assembling and training a front office staff at Social Smoke that didn’t need my personal attention to every problem, I also worked on making it easier than ever for anyone to get a hold of me. I posted my cell phone number on our company’s Facebook page, give it out to any retail or wholesale customer that I meet, and put it on the bottom of all my emails. I want anyone and everyone to be able to call or text me when needed. I found that I was rarely ever contacted on my cell, but when I was called there was always a good reason, and I was happy to be there for the customer. If someone needs to reach me on a Sunday night, so be it; the whole phone call usually takes a minute or two, and I usually take a message and contact them back on Monday. No big deal for me = happy customers for the business.

With all that said, it was no surprise to me when I read this CNN article about Steve Jobs fielding customer service calls. You probably know that I’m not a huge fan of Apple products, but I am a huge fan of their company philosophy. Apple gadgets might not be the best in the world of technology, but the emotional connection their customers have with their subpar products (just kidding, you Apple freaks) is legendary.

Money, time, and energy spent cultivating a relationship with your customers, as well as the resulting word-of-mouth advertising is a great investment. A powerful emotional attachment between the consumers and your products and company will do more for your bottom line than millions of dollars in ad space ever will.

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