2009 is proving to be a very tough year in business. The world wide recession, higher unemployment, and thousands of families doing it harder than ever before, are all contributing to the present gloom. In Australia, and in my area, three successive severe droughts have added to the dilemma. From a rural point of view, it is heart breaking to see honest, hard working families, trying to eke out a living with little or no water allocations, and three years in a row of well below average income.
In the cities and towns, unemployment and unsure employment are two worrying aspects embracing a big percentage of the population. So where from here?
Whatever the problems are, business has to have a presence, people need to be fed, we need fuel and services and a determination to see us through into better times ahead. In the barest of basic business strategies, you either reduce your operating costs or increase your turnovers, preferably, but not likely, both. It may sound easy, but it is not.
I was lucky to have experienced first hand, from an early age, that service is a number one requirement in a successful business enterprise. My three lifetime jobs were all highly dependent on dispensing first class service. This is pure common sense, but believe it or not, most businesses could be substantially improved if more emphasis was placed on rendering good customer service. It is a no cost commodity, and it all gets back to recruiting.
It all starts on day one, when you engage a new employee . Satisfactory academic qualifications are a necessity, but before this a pleasant personality is a pre-requisite. When I go into a hotel for a drink, and I contemplate say having three ales, the reception I receive from the bar person will decide if I have one or three drinks. If one, the employee has cost the business the price of two glasses, whereas a warm reception earns three times as much income for the cost of a smile.
All highly successful businesses dispense good service, and profit accordingly. It is not surprising when you see two like businesses achieving entirely different results, not through better product or price, but by the way the customer is serviced.
My banking background entailed giving first class service to customers in banking hours and to the general public outside of business hours. In those days the rewards came from being treated well by your customers and being promoted by the bank to higher paid duties. A two way win for good manners and a pleasant disposition. Todays events prompted me to write this article. Remember that I am getting up in years, but I do consider myself a very tolerant person.
After breakfast I went shopping, and my first point of call was the self serve petrol station. It was busy as usual, and my one minute wait seemed like 5 minutes, no ones fault. I filled up, replaced the hose and collected the window wiper to clean the bugs from my window, only to find no water in the container. I walked 25 metres to a tap and was honked by an impatient driver in one of the cars behind me. I would like to bet that he got the service he deserved when paying for his fuel. The lass at the pay desk saw my actions through the security window, apologized for the lack of water, and thanked me for filling it up, and wished me a happy day. Yes, I will fill up there next time I need fuel, she earned full marks, quelled my minor annoyance at the lack of water, waiting and being honked, and importantly retained a customer. The fact in business is that it is ten times cheaper to keep a customer than to find a new one. This particular lass has the potential to gain new business for the service station by being well mannered, observant and pleasant.
I suppose my readers will assume that my next shopping stop will have a different story to tell. You have got it right. No need to mention names, suffice to say it was part of one of the leading grocery chains. The grotty car park, with overflowing rubbish bins, does nothing for the customers attitude when entering the mart. It is busy, people everywhere, some calm, some in a hurry and not wearing one of their best faces. On arriving at the checkout, my expected wait was in vogue, and the young lass who has been taught to greet each customer, obviously was not in the mood to do just that. Not the slightest trace of a smile, nor a word uttered, processed my articles, named the cost, gave me my change, and off I went. My smile was wasted, hers was absent, next time I shop for grocery the other major store will have my patronage. The score is now one good, one bad.
The baker shop franchise was staffed with pleasant, well drilled young ladies who obviously valued their job and treated customers efficiently and pleasantly. A nice experience, I will be back.
Our favorite butcher shop was busy, and despite two rather rude customers being served before me, the staff went about their business with a smile which dampened grumpies ardour. They wished both customers a happy day, I am sure they will return. My turn came, they were obviously aware of my slight amusement, had a few words about the nice day, and sent me on the way happy as I usually am when I shop there. Having four other butchers in town can bring out the best, the boss recruited well.
The score is now three good, one bad. Not a bad place to live!But I have not finished my chores yet.
Off to the Post Office, I was not surprised to be on the end of a long queue. As usual, I glanced at my watch to note the time. It seemed like a five minute wait, it was actually seven minutes. These people are not taught to smile and greet, they have no opposition and I wonder if they think they are doing you a favour serving you?That is the impression I got, and it was in keeping with past experiences there. It is a pity I cannot take my business elsewhere. You just have to wear this, it is not likely to improve. I felt my smile was wasted, lucky they come cheap.
Now to my favorite, one of three chemist shops. The female staff are all well drilled, efficient and show a genuine interest in all customers. It is a sight to behold, reminds me of my banking days, unavoidable delays in dispensing but you are at peace with the world while waiting. Would you believe it, unlike the doctors waiting room, the Readers Digests are only last months. Well wishes on the way out, certainly made the high prices easier to accept. I am over half way through my shopping and the score is four good and two bad.
I do not want this to sound like sour grapes, but going to the bank is not something that rates high in my shopping experiences. I pass those staff saving Automatic Teller Machines, one that has caught me after hours wearing a sign that says out of order. Lucky they do not have ears.
Queue again, that is par for the course, bank service went out the window years ago, is it any wonder why they make huge profits?I need to see the loans officer, imagine my feelings when sternly told that the loans officer will be here the following day, I am asked to make an appointment. I have a tip for Mr Banker and his staff, wear uniforms and smiles, smiles are cost free, which they should embrace. The problem is that not only my bank is under staffed, they all are. But there is an alternative just around the corner, they open week ends too. When I repay my loans I think I may do business there, I will not need a loan, only a smile to keep me happy, and I will gladly give one of mine. Customer service is a two way thing. I will have to mark the banks one bad and one good.
Lunch time at last. Funny thing about coffee shops, everyone wants coffee at about the same time. So you expect it to be busy, and you are rarely disappointed. It really did not take long to be called to order, being busy is no excuse for not being greeted, however the lass was efficient, too matter of fact for my liking, but barely a pass mark. There, s half a dozen other shops like this, next time I will try elsewhere. In fairness, I must say the waitress clearing my table was a bright person who asked if I did enjoy my coffee and cake, I liked that, but then again she may have been alluding to the many crumbs surrounding the plate. No, I cannot award a pass here.
Now here is the daddy of them all. I drive into the bottle shop for a carton of beer. I thought my usual two dozen cans would cost $29/30. I asked how much, which the attendant seemed to resent being asked. He said $34, to which I respectfully said it was only $29 a fortnight ago. His remark set me back a bit, take it or leave it. I admit I saved my usual smile for someone more deserving, told him I would shop elsewhere, and drove off. I am a little on the deaf side, but I am sure I heard him say something that I cannot say here. I will not visit that establishment ever again.
I must hurry, my wife would have expected me home well before now.
The next bottle shop drive in was quite a different experience. A well dressed young man promptly appeared at my window, told me my beer price rose this week from $29 to $34, and said sorry about that , but I do not set the prices. I smiled, said I fully understand, and he put the carton on my back seat. Thanks mate was his parting comment, I will be back there shortly.
We expect visitors for afternoon tea, so I had better call in at McDonalds for some donuts. Here is a great example of what service is all about. They were busy, they are always busy, but the drill stands out . These youngsters are taught like all staff in the public eye should be taught, they know how to meet and greet, they move smartly, they dress smartly, and despite the pressure they work under, they deliver on service and manners.
What a great grounding McDonalds (and in fairness, other fast food chains as well) give these youngsters, they are being fitted for a successful customer service career. A definite good rating for this.
If my calculations are correct, today’s shopping scored 7 goods and 5 bads. My spending topped $175, it will be near the same next time, but the difference will be some will get zilch and others will gain what others have lost. Most small businesses do not make much more for the proprietor than wages, their main reward comes in the form of goodwill when they sell. That goodwill factor is determined by profit, and profit is determined by the recruitment of pleasant smiling faces. Something that costs so little has a huge affect on the results achieved. Service determines the success or otherwise of your business.
My sons call me an old fuddy duddy, be that as it may, there is a lot of Grey nomads out there who collectively spend enough to influence the net result of many businesses. Always remember, smiles come your way when you offer yours up first. I love the cost factor!
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