When the Customer is FIRST, the Relationship will LAST!

A few weeks ago I was asked to address an exclusive group of SME owners on the subject of building customer satisfaction and, by extension, customer loyalty.

A few weeks ago I was asked to address an exclusive group of SME owners on the subject of building customer satisfaction and, by extension, customer loyalty. Having spent the last 15 years helping businesses around the world become more successful as regards customer service and sales, I was in my element! Let me share with you six of the many tips that I gave them. These are among the fundamentals which, I believe, every aspiring business owner needs to focus on:

Make the customer the focus of everything you do

Successful companies like the Apple, the Ritz Carlton and make sure that the customer is at the center of their customer service credo and their values. You show your customers how important you are to them by giving the very best possible service you can. Your actions are a reflection of your values. Take a tip from, whose stated #1 core value is ‘Deliver WOW through Service’.

Training should be the fuel driving your company’s success

Training is one important avenue that a company needs to take if it is to exceed its customers’ expectations, which is one of the most fundamental aims of every business. Training not only provides consistency within an organization but also enlightenment about best and worse practices. I am often reminded about the story of the company CFO who asks the CEO, “What if we train our people and they leave?” and receives the reply, “What if we don’t and they stay?” Everyone in every company always has something new to learn. Training should be constant.

Do what you say

Once you have determined that your employees have all the resources they need to deliver the level of service you have promised your customers, you have to evaluate them on their ability to deliver ‘WOW’ and superior service. Let’s use again: In 2010, due to an internal error, one of their sites accidentally marked down nearly all of its stock to $49.95 for six hours. Items that should have sold for almost $2,000 were sold at over 97% off! This mistake cost the company an estimated $1.6 in revenue. And what did Zappos do? Nothing! CEO Tony Hsieh described what had happened as “a learning experience” and honoured all the sales made during the period of the error. It was an expensive decision but customers realized that the company preferred to suffer a massive financial loss than lose their trust. Most companies assess their success on sales and profitability but there is a lot to be said for smiles and sustainability too.

Lose the sale but don’t lose the relationship

All businesses people want to make money but they don’t always understand that relationships are more important. When my wife Christine was appointed Human Resources Partner with a prestigious global company, one of the many benefits of the job was the provision of free medical insurance for the whole family. When she showed me the all-inclusive insurance policy, which appeared to be just as good as our existing one, I called my insurance agent to tell him about it, informing him that I was weighing my options and thinking about cancelling my current plan. His reaction was totally unexpected: Basically he told me that I was crazy and I needed to understand that my wife’s job (hence our medical insurance policy) could not be guaranteed forever! His attitude alone was enough to make me want to cancel all my policies with his company but, luckily for him, his much wiser manager saved the day by looking at the new policy and admitting that it was better than the one I already had. He lost my annual health insurance premium but he saved our relationship (and his other business with me, my family and friends).

Copy immaculate service

On several occasions, Steve Jobs quoted Pablo Picasso, saying that “Good artists copy and great artists steal” Does your company benchmark itself against those that have a reputation for the best customer service? Why not? If you want to be the best, you should learn from the best. Jobs also admitted that Apple had always been “shameless about stealing great ideas”. So, for example, if you know that one of your competitors trains its employees to ask for and use customers’ names and to greet returning customers by name, do the same with your own employees. Immaculate customer service does not require a big budget or extra costs. Just see what good things others are doing and do the same!

Learn and gain from mistakes

No matter how good and careful we are, everyone makes mistakes sometimes but we can turn them into positive experiences. When I was working for the Virardi family business (, I used to run what was known as the “Mistake of the Month” competition, with lucrative prizes for the winners. Now, you may quite reasonably think that, no matter what the prize might be, no-one wants to admit that they have made a mistake. However, this was more about making a mistake and then fully correcting it. Apparent failures were turned into success stories and we (Management) saw our employees’ resourcefulness in putting things right. It is said that “a broken bone becomes stronger when it heals” and similarly, we can all learn (and improve) from our mistakes.

As Shep Hyken has memorably noted, “Customer service is not a department. It is a philosophy to be embraced by every employee – from the CEO to the most recently hired.” So do everything to ensure that your business puts your customers first. I can guarantee that, if you make this effort, your customer relationships will last and grow.