“Aren't you ever in a bad mood?” wondered Nick a bit vaguely.
“Of course! Just like everyone else. But, as someone once said, you don't sing in the shower because you're happy, but to become happy. You become what you think and feel. That also makes me function better at work with colleagues and customers.”
Nick let it sink in. He had heard this before…
“I try to be positive, mainly because I like feeling happy. Naturally I also have my dark moments. Anyway, what did you discover yesterday?”
“It must be expensive to have premises in the best business locations and among the optimum customer flows. It probably requires substantial sales just to get together the rent and salaries,” said Nick.
“That's true, but how did you get on with your homework?” Gus sounded impatient.
“None of them were at the top of the search engines. But to tell the truth, I actually only tried on Google. Maybe I should have looked further.”
“Oh well, at least you looked. Well, was it possible to shop on the websites?”
“Some. But most of them were relatively boring and uninteresting. The shop and the website should really sort of pull together,” said Nick.
“So you mean that there's an opportunity here, too?”
“Of course,” said Nick. “They should work equally actively with their different flows.”
“Good work, that's enough. And now to today's topic…”
“Impressive, dear Nick,” he said putting his left arm around Nick's shoulders. “This is precisely what we are going to take a closer look at today. The art of taking care of customers and surpassing their expectations. Just like you planned how to take care of your guests at the party. With Mood Managers, welcoming air hostesses and fun activities.” With his free right hand Gus took the miniature model out of his inside pocket.
“Yesterday we dealt with where we should meet our customers, and now we are going to talk about HOW WE SHOULD TAKE CARE OF our customers.”
“Well, well,” said Nick a bit cockily, walking close beside Gus. “But where are we going? Can't we go to Lucy's and have a quick coffee first?”
“You and your favorite,” laughed Gus. “But that's precisely where we're going.” Ten minutes later they entered the door of the café and Lucy waved genially to them as soon as she caught sight of them.
“I heard from Marcus that your party was a great success,” she said exuberantly. She winked at Gus.
“The Around the World Party! I heard. I loooove parties,” she said with a dreamy look. “It's on me today! What will it be?” She gestured towards all the delicacies on show.
“But you don't need to,” Nick said defensively.
“Keep quiet, I treat my favorite guests,” said Lucy. “Particularly your stylish friend who often drops in for a morning coffee,” she said winking at Gus.
“Heavens, I had no idea about that. I'm only here after work so it's not surprising…”
“…that we haven't met here,” laughed Gus.
Gus sipped the hot coffee, put down his cup and started to write on the paper table cloth:
Take care of your customers, or somebody else will!
“That sounds like it's been stolen from a learned scholar,” Nick joked. Gus looked like he had been caught with his fingers in the biscuit tin.
But then he laughed and said: “That's why I wanted us to start at Lucy's. We both know that she is superb at taking care of her guests. Absolutely superb!” He said the latter with such emphasis that it really hit home with Nick.
“I agree with you. Lucy's isn't our regular café for nothing.”
“It's all about expectations, you see Nick, about how I am treated as a customer or a guest. And so it is up to the company staff to correspond to and surpass our expectations.”
“But in that case they have to know what expectations the customers have, I mean, if you're going to surpass them,” wondered Nick.
“Absolutely correct. But unfortunately Nick, a lot of companies talk about the fact that they are going to surpass the customer's expectations, maintain a high level of service, put the customer at centre stage and say, ‘without customers we haven't got a job'. Yet they are not even able to ascertain which expectations the customers or the guests actually have. A lot of talk and no action, you could say.”
“Agreed,” said Nick confidently.
“For example, you go to Lucy's and expect what?”
“Good coffee and a chair to sit on,” Nick speculated.
“Obviously a pleasant reception,” said Nick and Gus continued:
“Lucy quite simply makes me feel good. She knows most of her customers by name. There have been mornings when I have felt lousy after a long evening meeting. Then I come here, even though it's not on the way to the office. Having met Lucy, felt welcome and special, sensed her passion to make my visit something extra, read the morning paper and been treated to her excellent sandwiches and ever fresh coffee, I feel good! It's that simple. And that's worth any price.”
“It's the same for me,” said Nick. “Precisely what you said about feeling special.”
“And now to the nub of the issue,” Gus took over. “Every company, whatever they are involved in, survives due to their customers. Full stop. And customers are never an undifferentiated grey mass called the target group. A target group consists of individuals of flesh and blood with their completely individual expectations. That's what the entire staff and the company bloody well have to learn. It's about getting your customers to feel as good as you and I do when we visit Lucy. To repeat,” he said, drawing on the cloth:
“Make sure to ascertain what expectations the customer has. Surpass them, and you have a really satisfied customer. And if you underestimate the customers, they will be dissatisfied. It's that simple.” Nick felt that he had given a perfect reply.
“Great,” Gus countered, quick as a flash.
“But wait a minute. It's only when you recognize the need that you can grasp what expectations the customer has.”
“What a great feeling it is when I hear you say that.” Gus was impressed. “And what is the need?”
“To need a product or service that resolves my problem or satisfies my need for assistance in finding the solution. Heard, seen…”
“… and acknowledged,” added Gus and rounded-off, “as a customer you always want someone to care about you. So that we get to feel important and needed, and not least welcome. A lot of companies have the words service and satisfied customers in their business concept, but they frequently remain as just words.”
“As in your business idea and strategies, to make your customers into heroes,” countered Nick. “But doesn't it also require that you demonstrate it in action!?”
“That's exactly right. And by everyone in the company.”
Nick felt that most of what they had been talking about in the last few days was starting to come together into an overall picture. Everything was interconnected.
He saw a puzzle in front of him that wasn't yet completely finished. After a few seconds of silence Gus suddenly said: “The customers’ Chain of Experience. Have you come across it Nick?”
“Sort of. I suppose it must be the Chain of Experiences that the customer encounters when dealing with a company. It's logical,” he said without really understanding properly.
“That's it. It's when a company, regardless of where, when and how it meets its customers, has to establish good relations. And then the idea of the customer's Chain of Experience can be of assistance.”
“Is it when you consider all the contacts that the customer has with the company and its products?”
“Precisely. Every conceivable point of contact. From phone calls, visits at reception or in the shop, in advertisements, visits to the website and right up to the moment of purchasing and payment. In many cases even after the purchase has been made. As customers, we always have expectations. And as a company, how can I surpass them!?”
“Examples Gus! Give me a fresh example from your massive repository.” Nick loved hearing Gus's instructive stories. It was quite simply so much easier for him to understand.
“I'd like to talk about Disney,” he said smiling childishly.
“Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse then,” said Nick in an equally childlike tone.
“No, not about them but about Disneyworld! The theme parks dotted around the world that have fantastic numbers of visitors every day, year in, year out. I have heard that Disney analyzed how their visitors think and therefore knows exactly what expectations they have. They know that the majority are families with children and that on average they travel 150 kilometers to the amusement park. They know that the visitors are aware that they open at nine in the morning and therefore leave home in good time so that they can enjoy themselves all day. Disney knows that the visitors are prepared to queue for quite a while before the park opens.”
“Well, I've seen that they have barriers that wind around so that people don't feel the queue is too long?”
“Yes, it's a good trick that I believe Disney was first to use, and that is now used all over the world where there are long queues. But no, that wasn't what I was thinking of. They open the gates before nine instead.”
Gus let Nick dwell on the thought for a few seconds and continued: “So perhaps I'm standing there and moaning about having to wait for another half an hour and then they open up. Am I going to be happy and surprised? Is Disney surpassing my expectations? And when I enter the theme park I can plan my day in peace and quiet inside the park before the doors open to all the attractions.”
“But that's what all companies should do. I mean, think through what expectations the customers have of the company or their products. For example, e-commerce companies can deliver faster than promised.” Nick stretched himself proudly.
“Exactly, and I have yet another exciting example.” Now Gus was really getting going. “There is a wholesale business that was once operated by a real entrepreneur and ideas man. A good old friend and mentor called Mike Redford. This was what he thought: ‘If I feel that receiving invoices is a pain then I'm sure my customers feel it's a pain to receive mine'. So what do you think he did?” wondered Gus.
“He didn't bother to send them,” said Nick.
“No, of course not. He sent a sweet in the envelope along with the invoice. So incredibly simple and ingenious. The customers really appreciated the thought, and were happy to open Mike's envelope each time in order to get at his lovely sweets.”
“Imagine what miracles a single little sweet can do for customer relations,” said Nick. “It doesn't need to cost the earth to make in practice someone happy! By the way, this example goes under the heading Common Sense! Knowing me – knowing you! But surely it's too simple.”
“And it doesn't need to cost a penny,” Gus emphasized, “so long as there's a good idea and the desire to meet the customer as a human being. Show that you care. Show consideration.”
Nick thought that Gus was starting to sound like a priest.
“The simplest idea is often the most ingenious,” thought Nick. A quotation that he had read recently. Gus interrupted him in his thoughts:
“Back to the Chain of Experience. Every company should go through all its contacts with customers from start to finish. You might think that I go on about IKEA, but they have thought through all their contact points in the minutest detail. From the catalogues dropping through all the customers’ letterboxes to the bookcase standing there assembled in the living-room.”
“Is it possible to have a detailed example then?” asked Nick.
“Now we should be clear that most of IKEA's customers know which company they are flocking to. They all already have a relationship with ‘their IKEA’ and that relationship has been developed over many years. We customers know what we can expect. And yet they are still constantly surprising us.” Gus caught his breath and continued:
“You want to have an example and that's what you shall have. So simple and simultaneously so incredibly smart. When we, let's say my fiancée and I, arrive at the entrance, we each have the use of a large carrier bag where we can put goods as we walk around the store.”
“But wait a minute, how unique is that? You get trolleys at every supermarket.” Nick thought that he had caught Gus out.
“The unique thing is that even more stands with carrier bags are located strategically throughout the large department store. If bag number one is full then I can immediately find bag two. And when I proceed with my two bags on my shoulders and realize that I want to buy more, then I borrow one more large bag. Having walked through the store with my fiancée we are suddenly standing in the checkout with four bags. And we are so pleased. And if we want to keep the bags to carry the things out to the car then we pay a trifling sum for them.”
“Yes, it has to be said, it's smart. They provide assistance with carrying. And provide themselves with sales assistance,” said Nick. “It's actually something that the food shops should also adopt. Offering baskets for customers not just in the entrance, but also inside the milk department, which is usually located at the very back of the shop…”
“My friend,” said Gus proudly. “You'll soon be a consultant in the field. But Nick, as you like examples, here are some more.”
Nick started tilting impatiently on the café chair as Gus droned on about IKEA:
“Moreover, paper, pens and tape measures are strategically positioned throughout the store. All so that the customer can plan, measure and calculate in peace and quiet as well as remember where they have to collect their goods in the self-service warehouse. They take the customer very seriously and signal their consideration.”
“I've observed that they actually have simple instructions in the packaging when you are putting the furniture together at home,” said Nick, adding jokingly that even his dad managed to assemble a Billy shelf a while ago. Nick now wanted to tell Gus what he had experienced himself.
“It often seems to be the precise opposite when you're buying computers and other complicated electronic gadgets. If you have any questions the sales assistant usually says – ‘No problem, just plug´n play'. And that's absolutely right. Up until the moment you get home and have to start the damn thing up. Then you have to ‘Plug'n pray'. Or ‘Plug'n pain'! All expectations are confounded. When you contact the company again to get help, they blame everything and everybody and the salesperson takes on a different persona.” Nick felt that he was getting hot under the collar at the very thought of the misery.
“This probably happens because the companies are usually run by arrogant technicians and they don't have the least sensitivity to the fact that the customers don't have their knowledge. They haven't got a clue about the customer's situation or what needs customers actually have.”
“This is interesting,” said Nick enthusiastically. “Have you got any more good examples? I remember the shops I visited when we were talking about competition. There wasn't much of a Chain of Experience there, that's for sure. More like: ‘Bother us as little as possible, buy what you want, pay and leave'!”
“Naturally the Chain of Experience was there as it always is. For the customer. But the shop staff weren't aware of it. And neither were they interested. A few years ago I was at a lecture by a guy who was working on mapping consumer behavior. He said: ‘In the autumn when it is rainy and horrible the customers bring lots of slush and dirt into the shops. You can then see the muck from two perspectives – as a problem or an opportunity. You can think like person A – Good Lord, what trying customers I have bringing in all this dirt that I have to clean up. What a good job this would be if I didn't have these awkward customers! Or like person B – Great, now I can do an analysis of the customer flow. The dirt tells me precisely where they are going and where I can display my impulse purchases and high margin goods and thereby make more money per customer visit!'”
“Problems or opportunities,” said Nick remembering the discussions with his mum about glasses that are half full or half empty. “You either say depressingly that the glass is half empty or express positivity in that the glass is half full. It's all about how you view life.”
“After just a few days with me you're talking like an expert,” said Gus smiling. “What comes to mind when I say service, Nick?”
“It's when somebody tries to help me I think…”
“For example, good service at a restaurant is when the waiter is really interested in making good contact with the guests and establishing a good atmosphere so that the experience consists of more than just the of the food. Feeling better when you leave the restaurant than when you arrived.”
Gus asked again, “By the way, do you know what the word service actually means?”
Nick thought about it. “No, I'm afraid not.” Nick thought again. “Sorry, but my brain's not working!” He pointed at his temple.
“The word service is Latin and means to serve. To serve a guest or customer.”
He made a note on the cloth at the same time as Nick commented, “But that sounds almost like servant. Like a waiter at the court of the king. That sounds a bit negative in my opinion.”
“Have you already forgotten the half-full glass? Service or to serve is the same thing, but people interpret and evaluate the words differently sometimes. All, I repeat all, occupations are service occupations. They are all, as it were, customers of their customer. For example, the staff in the clothes boutique shop in the jeweler's, whose staff buy clothes in the clothes shop, the post-office clerk is a customer in the flower shop, whose staff visit the post office from time to time. The employees in the computer shop may be customers of the social insurance office, which bought new computers at the same computer business a week ago. And we could carry on like that for all eternity. And it also applies to internal customer relations in the company. We are all each other's customers and we want to satisfy our needs and pay for it. But my friend, don't you think it's strange?” said Gus thoughtfully. “It is certainly strange that those who are unpleasant, nonchalant and completely uninterested in us customers probably get angry when they encounter the same thing.”
“In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Nick understood and wanted to demonstrate that at least he hadn't missed the Bible lessons when he was confirmed.
“Precisely. And isn't it incredible how often we are careless with the truth, in terms of customer relations and the Chain of Experience?”
“You've understood what it's all about,” said Gus proudly. “But now I have to be going. I have invited one of my best customers to dinner and I have to go to the office to prepare for the meeting. By the way, do you know the origin of the word TIP or TIPS?”
“I haven't got a clue,” said Nick. “TIP or TIPS?”
“Well, according to my sources it stands for To Improve Proper Service.”
“To improve the service? But in that case the tip should be given in advance so that you really know that you're going to get good service,” Nick said.
“That's precisely how it can be. And do you know what I have done in order to get the best service for me and my guest?”
“No idea,” replied Nick thinking that now Gus was going to bring out one of his tall stories again, but you always learnt something.
“Well, my restaurateur friend John told me about an occasion when an American came into his restaurant. He tore a fifty pound note in two and gave one half to John and said: ‘You can have the other half when we're leaving if you give me and my friends great service this evening'. They received the best service they could ever imagine. When I popped in to see John yesterday to reserve a table for this evening I did the same thing. I found out who was going to be our waitress and I gave her half a fifty pound note and asked for special service for my customer and me.”
Uncle Gus held up his half of the note.
“We'll have to wait and see what happens…”
“That was a novel move,” said Nick. “Sounds a bit like a bribe to me to be honest.”
“Not at all,” said Gus. “It's important to me that my customer, or my guest this evening, feels good and is positive. She's expecting a nice dinner. I view the tip as part of the advertising budget to ensure that she is seen, acknowledged and liked.”
Nick now had the feeling that the penny had really dropped. At least in terms of the part of the puzzle that concerned common sense.
“I know what you're thinking,” said Gus. “So I'm going to do a bit of summing up:
– Start from the customer's needs and situation.
– Consider the customer's Chain of Experience.
– Ascertain expectations, and surpass them.
– Think about Seen, Acknowledged, Loved.
– Give the customer something unique and extra in the Chain of Experience.
“And common sense,” said Nick. Gus nodded in the affirmative.
“And now for the homework,” he said. “Visit a few companies, any you like, and see how they treat you in the light of what we have talked about today. Tomorrow we'll go and look at who should do what in the Chain of Experience.”
“OK,” said Nick. “I'll stay here for a while and think things through. Good luck with the meeting, and I hope you receive good service, both of you.”
Gus got up and smiled wryly over Nick's supposition that it was probably a date. He said:
“But she is my customer.”
Nick remained sitting and reflected on service in all its forms and concluded that it was all about attitude and pride, the desire to put yourself out, the desire to assist and to feel that serving is enjoyable, and to earn more money. On the way home Liza called and wondered if Nick could go to town with her to do some shopping and go to the bank. Perfect, he thought, then I'll be doing my homework at the same time.