By Matthew Butti, CSPM, PSA Operations Committee
It was a Monday, a great beginning to a strong new week, and I was looking forward to not having a “case of the Mondays” (Office Space fans know what I am talking about). We received a call from a longtime customer with some concerns about not having time for them or communicating with them and they were looking at replacing us with a smaller company that could devote more time and resources.
It seemed not too long ago, WE WERE that small company that everyone was turning to. In that moment, we could’ve used all the excuses in the world. We wanted to tell them we had recently changed business system software with a lot of automation. We were getting used to a definite change in our culture in regard to messaging and communications to our clients. We let the customer know how important their business was to us and without them, our company would not be where it is today. Fortunately, we were able to keep them as a client; however, we now have to prove to them, and ourselves, who we are once again..
We began with an internal team meeting where we recounted how our business used to be that one company.
You know, the company that set itself apart by treating every single customer, no matter how much they spend or no matter their size as if they were the only customer we had. We had referrals pouring in, continued organic growth, and eventually a national presence. What happened between then and now?
It’s funny how organic growth and the ever-growing world of technology can change things (and not always for the better).
When I was a kid, I used to watch reruns of Hannah-Barbera Studio’s cartoon “The Jetsons.” It was set in the future, the year 2062. The cartoonist created flying cars, a full-sized robot maid named Rosie, full-screen facetime calling on a tv screen mounted to the wall, moving sidewalks, phone watches… You get the picture. I remember thinking how cool it would be to live in that world and how different things would be. I remember imagining how fast information could travel (in a 10-year-old sort of way), how amazing it would be to talk to my mom through my watch and tell her where I was after school, what time she should come and get me, etc. My “nerdy” friends and I used to talk about it, dream about all the possibilities that could push information technology forward. That was 35 years ago yet, here we are (with the exception of flying cars and thank goodness for that)! We get the message out faster than ever before. So fast, in fact, we seem to have forgotten how to listen or how to speak and solve problems by actually calling or meeting with the customer.
Let me clarify, I firmly believe that email, texting, social media and automated messaging are valuable tools in regard to efficiency, and have their place in the world of customer and internal communication. As a matter of fact, I have customers that clearly put in their voicemail messages to please email or text as they do not check voicemail (Oh the humanity!!!!). In our company, we are constantly working on ways to improve upon finding a happy medium between the “small company” feel that is so important to our legacy clients, and learning how to handle things on a larger, more global scale. Our new business software is so automated that it will directly email the clients every single time there is a change in information about project schedule, progress updates, closeout notes, resolutions, issue logs, and warranty letters, just to name a few. It is extremely efficient, fast-moving and completely… impersonal. How do we overcome this challenge?
We have initially made the simple adjustment to just follow up those nice, automated emails with a quick phone call to the client, even if they don’t answer or don’t call back. We reached out to make that human connection. The number one complaint we receive from our customers in this industry (or any industry dealing with customer service) – “no one called me to discuss … (fill in the blank).”
Let’s face it, in business today there is so much competition. What unique value do we offer to set ourselves apart from our competition? All of us who were in the workforce at the time, spent a good amount of the early 2000s, finding the best way to automate information, communicate faster, create digital service tickets,ect. We all learned how to craft that “perfect email” that was ridiculously long and filled with big words like “juxtaposed.” I most certainly used words completely out of context. Sadly, it was the type of message in today’s environment that could be typed in 10-20 words. We were all so worried about perfecting those things, I’m pretty sure we forgot about that one very basic and simple thing: to just talk to people and make them feel important.
How can you set your business apart from the rest of the pack? Take a step back in time, dial the “phone” function of the smartphone, talk to your customers, meet with them regularly, understand what they are wanting. This simple ten minutes of your time matters to them and to your company’s future growth.