Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature in which I share stories, insights, and reflections about real business and life challenges.
This past week, I had a customer service experience that I believe defines the single most essential aspect of providing outstanding customer service. It provides a great example of how you can differentiate your company from the competition.
Before I share this experience with you, let’s talk about what it takes to get customers to say nice things about you and your company, and then to take it to the next level by getting them to write positive reviews about you and refer their friends and families to you.
I seldom post reviews on Google Maps, Yelp, or other such sites. Unlike most people who post reviews, when I do it, it’s when I have something good to say about my experience. In fact, I can’t recall ever making a negative post.
But I’m not a typical customer. When I’m not happy with the service I’ve received, I proactively bring it to the attention of the owner or manager.
By proactively, I mean I don’t just complain, I calmly and politely point out exactly why I’m dissatisfied and offer suggestions on what they could have done to improve my experience with their company. At that point, I leave the “how to fix it” up to them.
Have you ever had a customer do that? It’s not likely because most people don’t know how to express their dissatisfaction in a constructive fashion. They aren’t business coaches and customer service junkies like me.
If you take a few minutes to read some online reviews, you’ll find that most are negative, some are positive, and almost none are anywhere in between. I addressed this phenomenon in my October, 2014 GEARS article titled Apostles, Terrorists or Apathetics. You can guess which ones write positive and negative reviews, as well as which ones write no reviews at all. That article is still available online at issuu.com/gearsmagazine/docs/2014_octn_all.
The key point of the article was that people tend to talk about extraordinary customer experiences. Unfortunately, extraordinary customer experiences include bad ones as well as good ones. It’s natural to be more emotional about bad experiences, so we’re more likely to talk with friends and post reviews to the world about the bad ones.
The good experiences typically have to be truly extraordinary to motivate a customer to share them with friends and post reviews. In addition to being outstanding, they need to be interesting.
But, with a little proactive nudge from you or somebody else within the company, customers are more likely to take the time to post those invaluable positive reviews. This is why you and your team should develop the habit of asking for positive reviews and referrals. You never know when a nudge is all a customer needs say something nice in a review or to refer a friend.
Alex Goldfayn was a featured speaker at last year’s Powertrain Expo, and he’s returning to speak again this year. His session alone is all the reason you need to plan to be there.
If you’re a follower of Alex’s weekly Evangelist Marketing Minute emails and his 90-second Revenue Growth video series, you’ve heard how important it is to ask for positive reviews and referrals.
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We tend to be apathetic or ambivalent regarding service experiences that are best described as fine, typical, to-be-expected, routine, so-so, average, and so on. I’ve never seen any real statistics on this, but my experience tells me that this category probably fits about 80% of all customer experiences.
We just don’t talk about typical experiences because they’re not interesting. For instance, do you talk about the last time you went to McDonald’s or got gas at your local mini-mart? You probably don’t because these aren’t businesses where extraordinarily great or bad experiences occur. So why talk about them?
This article is about the one thing you and your team can do to turn more of those 80% “just-fine” customer experiences into extraordinarily good experiences… experiences your customers can’t wait to tell their friends and family about and to post on review sites. It involves creating a company culture and marketing strategy that’s built around just one word: caring.
I’m big on watching how other businesses do business. Yogi Berra is credited with saying “You can observe a lot by watching.” To his point, I think we can learn a lot by watching what other businesses do, especially if they’re in a different industry than ours.
Here’s a quick story about what happened to me and how a local company came to my rescue with what I’m confident you’ll agree is extraordinary service that’s worth talking about.
The Back Story
While on a five-week vacation in Africa, I severely injured my back in a boating accident. I lost most of the feeling in my legs and was unable to walk without assistance. After nearly three weeks of rehab and therapy, the doctor in Africa released me to fly home for back surgery. She required me to upgrade to first class so I could lie in a prone position to keep the weight off my spine during the 22-hour flight home.
Here’s a chronology of how “helpful” the various service and health care providers were until I met the only provider that I’ll include by name in this article, Doctor Crooks of Pinnacle Pain and Spine in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Because of the circumstances, the airline waived the $600 change fee for switching from coach to first class. How generous, since the fare increased by $5,404!
The day after we got home, my primary care physician sent me directly to the hospital for emergency surgery.
Later that same day, while the ER was prepping me for surgery, the surgeon on duty called off the surgery. He wouldn’t perform the surgery because he wasn’t in my insurance company’s network. He said my condition wouldn’t meet their criteria for an emergency. I’d need to come to his office on Monday for a pre-surgical consult and get an out-of-network authorization (to make sure he’d get paid) before he’d perform the surgery.
When I got to his office on Monday, I was told that I’d have to pay for my exam because — news flash! — he’s not in my insurance company’s network. I was desperate to get the surgery scheduled so I paid the $300 exam fee. I figured I’d get reimbursed once we got the insurance company’s authorization.
After the exam, the surgeon told me that getting an authorization for him to do the surgery was unlikely because there were several surgeons in the network who were qualified to do what I needed. He suggested that I contact the insurance company for a referral to one of their network surgeons.
So now, back at square one and out $300, I did as he suggested. I got an appointment with one of the in-network surgeons.
A few days later, as requested, I delivered 20+ pages of new patient and medical history forms and my MRI to the in-network surgeon’s office. The receptionist took the package and told me that the doctor would review everything over the weekend. She said she’d get back to me the following week to schedule my pre-surgery appointment.
The following week she contacted me to tell me that his next available appointment was six weeks out, but he agreed to put me as number 1 on his cancellation list. In the meantime, he’d refer me to a pain management specialist who would help me get through the next several weeks.
I don’t think I can express the depth of my despair and frustration. I’d been in severe pain and unable to walk or feel my legs for over five weeks. I’d been home from Africa for 10 days and I was no closer to getting the surgery than the day I got home.
Enter Pinnacle Pain and Spine
The next day, I got a call from Kristi at Pinnacle Pain and Spine. She asked a few basic questions and said she’d call back in about two hours to confirm an appointment for the next afternoon at 4:00. They’d perform epidural injections to relieve pain and inflammation to help me tolerate things better. That sounded great to me in spite of the fact that it wouldn’t totally resolve my condition.
Two hours later, Kristi called back and started the conversation by saying, “We’re so sorry that you’re experiencing so much discomfort and that you’ve been unable to obtain any help. We realize you’ve been suffering for nearly six weeks. I’ve called your insurance company and it turns out that Doctor Crooks isn’t in your provider network.”
Before I could throw my phone against the wall, she continued. “However, Doctor Crooks wants to take care of you first and, even if the insurance company refuses to authorize his charges, he’s going to treat you at no charge. Can you keep the appointment for tomorrow so we can begin treating your pain right away?”
I couldn’t believe my ears! Is this doctor actually willing to help me without regard to whether he’s going to get paid? Kristi told me that, in cases like mine, they’re committed to first take care of the patient, and then jump through the hoops to get paid. Sometimes they get paid and sometimes they don’t, but at least they feel they’ve done the right thing.
She wasn’t the only member of Doctor Crooks’s team that expressed that sentiment. Other staff members and Doctor Crooks himself said almost the exact same thing. Doctor Crooks added to it, “We’re committed to doing the right things for the right reasons;” to which I added, “even when nobody’s looking.”
Why is this story important to you?
The fact that Pinnacle Pain and Spine’s office staff echoed the same care-driven message tells me that it’s deeply ingrained as a core principle in their company culture.
As a reader of this column, you’re most likely in the car care business. Your reason for being in business should also begin with caring. Develop a company culture that promotes and nurtures caring. Everyone on your team must embrace it, and it needs to course through the entire organization so it’s evident at every customer contact point.
To accomplish this, it’s essential that you care about the members of your team as well. A caring company culture begins with ownership caring about employees and they, in turn, care about each other. It’s been said that happy employees make happy customers. Which do you think comes first?
The next time you’re tempted to talk about yourself or about your company, instead of talking about your skills, knowledge, expertise, quality, warranties, or other such things, talk about how much you care. Make it clear that you’re a company that cares about people.
Zig Ziglar summed it up with this statement: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If you care… really, all the rest of the stuff just happens as a natural consequence of caring.
And, by the way, as a result of the treatments by Dr. Crooks, I’ve had significant pain relief and regained some of the feeling and strength in my legs. It appears, at least for now, that the surgery will be less extensive than was originally contemplated. Thanks Dr. Crooks!
How can you apply this starting today?
Earn the right to talk about how well you fix cars. Start by fixing customers. Listen for the customers’ primary frustrations and solve them first. Do they need a ride to work? Get kids to school? Need the car towed to safe location? When was the last time you took a call from a customer who was stranded by the road and your first thought was to ask, “Are you okay? Are you and the car in a safe location? What can we do to help?”
Stop talking about what you do, how much you know and how well you fix cars. Start talking about how much you care, and address their primary frustrations.
It all starts with your answer to the question, “Do you care… really?”