value of “customer experience”

A website I found when writing this post, makes my point, “We believe in the business of experience”. Successful business, or more specifically, very successful businesses, value their customers. As a California small business in two niche markets, one of my enterprises serves a specific market of business to business services, and the other has a broader client base. Yet both sets of customers are looking for the same things from me. Competence, reliability, competitive pricing, and an excellent customer experience.

The value of serving a niche market is the relatively few competitors given the specialization required to service it. The challenge of servicing a niche market is both to continue to treat a client as though they had numerous choices for your service. And a niche market can become financially-stressed by bureaucracy as well as tough economic times as has occurred during this Pandemic. Our operations must maintain customer trust. In contrast, some companies fail to recognize changing needs of customers and the value of the customer experience. Montgomery Wards, Sears, and even General Motors stumbled and failed. Only GM returned to profitability.

Our business was built initially by personal recommendation to our first clients. It initially expanded due reputation of its founders and partners- consultants. However, the success and continued growth for these enterprises have been due largely to the customer experience. Having a willingness to listen to the needs of the client. Using current media and technical means to provide a quality first impression to attract customers. Influence the customer to not want to go elsewhere for service.

Reputation

Honor, Courage, and Commitment

Remarkable contributions are typically spawned by a passionate commitment to transcendent values such as beauty, truth, wisdom, justice, charity, fidelity, joy, courage and honor.

Gary Hamel, businessman b. 1954

In the Navy, Sailors are taught the value of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. These are not simply cherished values, they are the foundation of what will ultimately make an individual successful in Life. A person learns that Honor – both that which you earn personally and that which you hold in esteem, is fundamental to how one builds trust with others. In a biography, The Luckiest Man (Mark Salter), of the late Senator John McCain, he maintained his sense of honor as a POW in refusing special considerations during captivity (his late grandfather and father (during Vietnam) were Navy Flag officers). His Senate career, in pushing normalization of relations with Vietnam, on legislation over campaign financing, foreign relations and military matters, won praise even from the opposition party (including President Obama). A second tenet, courage, is not simply the quality of the fiercest warrior. Courage is being resolute, despite opposition in one’s moral convictions. Taking a stand in support of just principles (the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights), or doing the right thing in spite of opposition. When the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, commander’s crew were succumbing to COVID, and the Navy was slow to act, his convictions to get attention for his crew resulted in his reassignment (public opinion may have moderated the Pentagon’s decision-making). Think of the last year when police officers were collectively criticized and even attacked for the actions of a minority of officers nationally; some officers when ordered to confront protesters took a conciliatory knee to ease tensions. And commitment? A resolute, unwavering effort to follow through on a promise, mission, or task, in spite of difficulties or opposition. The example and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who was in the forefront leading the way to obtain civil rights legislation, and at the cost of his life, exemplifies this.

building reputation

Repetition makes reputation and reputation makes customers.

Elizabeth Arden, businesswoman, d. 1966 (brainyquote)

Adding to these last, fidelity, passion for truth, and enjoying service to the public, build an enterprise’s reputation. In competition for business success, reputation attracts employees and customers. Successful companies such as Starbucks showcase this in their philosophy, and in their employees whether in Seoul, Korea or Charleston, South Carolina. Using the example of military basic training which I received in the 1970s, recruits are first screened to meet at a minimum certain qualities. Whether Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force or Coast Guard, recruit training shapes individuals into a team, and instill traits that distinguish military servicemembers from civilians. As they say in the Marines, you do not ‘join’ the Marines, they make Marines of those who thrive in the rigor of training, have the caliber of mental and physical stamina of warriors, and embrace the values that will make each an invaluable member of a “unit”.

fragile and easily damaged

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.

Warren Buffett

Reputation, even when built through such a “crucible”, is fragile. It can easily be lost or damaged through public misperception, and errors in judgement from management or employees. In the last decade, the perception that businesses – or their employees – disparage lifestyle choices of a segment of the consumer public, whether or not . However, in the cases of Chik Fil -A restaurants, Hobby Lobby stores, a bakery in Colorado, and most recently, individuals whose participation in political violence (storming of the Congress), reputations were damaged as well as expense to defend these in court. In the latter, the “insurrectionists”, even if painted with a broad brush, when identified as employees or representatives of agencies or businesses, had to be swiftly terminated, and have public apologies issued by their employers. While some patronize a business because of some affinity, the businesses will eventually suffer from the scrutiny. Reputation is an asset for a business. As Elizabeth Arden, the cosmetics magnate of the last century said, “Repetition makes reputation and reputation makes customers.”

Ask the Chief: repurposed

I have a sign in our home office that says “I didn’t retire. I’m just under new management.”

Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul

General Douglas MacArthur

“Retirement” once conjured up for me images of spending leisurely weeks on Hawaiian beaches, visiting foreign lands (this time with my spouse), or perhaps, spending time at a “vacation” home. However, the idea of having little else than “leisure” to occupy my time, just bothered me. I then wonder if others feel that being “unproductive”, that is “retired”, is shared by others? Changing careers frequently is a reality for many Millennials, Gen-X and now, Gen-Z workers. But a pandemic struck in early 2019 and “quarantine fatigue” is causing additional waves of infections and Governments to shut down commerce. The world has created a semi-retired class of people who do not have jobs to return or fill. Restaurants and many venues where large groups of customers formerly gathered have either folded or are barely surviving on government assistance. For those who “retired” in 2019, with few places in the world now COVID-free and open to visitors, there is little opportunity (or desire) to travel. However, with millions of people in need, experienced medical staff are welcome volunteers to man COVID testing and to administering vaccinations. For many others, the need is still present, but the delivery is changing. Teachers, small business coaches and consultants use web conferencing and social media to offer training. New opportunities in critical niche markets that are underserved are being filled by enterprising people. Elsewhere, retired military members become veteran advocates. Military-trained technicians start businesses to serve other businesses. I am certainly not unusual in starting a third career that interests me. I am not retired but instead “repurposed”.

Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren’t going to get rid of me that way.

Betty White

finger business

“After each customer interaction, notice if you gave them a “happy to see you” kind of experience.”

Marilyn Suttle, author, via Goodreads

Personal values, such as integrity, honesty, and likeability, I learned from my upbringing. Motivation, commitment, and organization, came from a career in the Navy. Problem-solving and customer relations are the result of a lifetime in various occupations including the aforementioned Navy, sales, and some self-employment ventures, two that were particularly unsuccessful and my present venture in partnership with my wife. After nearly forty years at work, each of us has found the perfect venture – and, a perk, we love working together. When my spouse was ready to leave the day-to-day management of a Nursing Education program, she found the certification side calling. In this niche market, students have graduated a post-secondary healthcare school and now require them to meet State public health criteria through examination and skills evaluation to receive licensing.

And that is happening in spite of, and to some extent, because of, the 2020 Pandemic. Despite candidate health surveys, frequent sanitization, applying social distancing spacing, and following revised assessment criteria, the key to a successful enterprise continues to be good customer relations.

And as the coronavirus still drives strong demand for healthcare workers, servicing federal or State-mandated fingerprinting for school enrollees is strong. Though we are primarily focused with healthcare, other occupations are regulated by State or Federal mandate to submit fingerprints. Clearance by the DOJ and /or the FBI is necessary in finance, social work, daycare providers and for teachers. With the closure of many competitors for months due to California pandemic prevention measures, our ability as a mobile service during the year – to go to the client’s site – has been one of the only servicers in my region. And our business is assisted by social media, word -of-mouth referrals, and when the cell phone rings, answering it as often as possible, is key to setting appointments.

Maintaining a good product, providing excellent service, and rolling (pardon the pun) out to a client, often female, as a mom n’ pop service team, have only served to increase customer referrals. I can attest to the success of Marilyn Suttle‘s advice, to give the customer a “happy to see you” experience.