Customer Service

by Craig Harrison

   "Something borrowed, something true, something novel, something new."

   Often innovation and improvement result from employing twists on conventional wisdom, and in applying old concepts in new ways. This month I share some of my favorite concepts from near and far to show how they can apply to our sales and service environments.

Continuous Improvement

   The Japanese concept of kaizen, translated, means continuous improvement. It's a noble endeavor of every Japanese business and is as constant as our motive to remain profitable. Their quest for improvement never ends, even when those goals are attained. Like the Hebrew National hot dog commercials in which we're told they answer "to a higher authority." In Japanese culture, continuous improvement is the norm. Adopt a kaizen approach to quality and customer service. Your customers will benefit, as will pride among your employees.

A Little Something Extra

   The Cajun concept of lagniappe involves giving a little something extra to customers, to show appreciation for their patronage and encourage their return. We all love that little something extra that isn't on the menu and doesn't cost extra. It makes us feel special to receive a bonus. Dish up some Southern hospitality in the form of lagniappe (pronounced Lan-YAP) to sate your customers.

Are your Customers Winners?

   I've yet to meet a customer who didn't like to win. A quick survey of game theory sheds insight into how we structure our customer experiences for maximum effect. Not all models please everyone.
   In Zero Sum Games my advantage is your disadvantage. Resources are finite so as I succeed, by definition you (and others) lose. This leads to more 'losers' than winners. Avoid such games.
   Similarly, in a Winner-Takes-All environment, there is only one winner. While great for the winner, the rest of the field, by definition, loses. (Runners up don't even get a set of steak knives!)
   When you set up rewards programs, contests and other incentives for your employees, clients and customers, try to avoid zero-sum games, and feelings of disappointment, frustration and resentment they create. Strive instead for "Win-Win" games. In this scenario, my winning isn't predicated on your losing. In fact, we can both win. Together we succeed.

Rules That Bend Don't Break

   Another phrase with customer ramifications is the distinction made in the legal profession between "the letter of the law" and "the spirit of the law." Many of our laws date back to our Constitution. Judges and lawyers spend a great deal of time applying old laws to new circumstances, while also applying new logic to old laws. Thus the distinction between following the letter of the law�what it explicitly says, versus the spirit of the law�the intention behind it. Sometimes a literal application of the law misses the point.
   How true this is in customer situations. When we cite chapter and verse of our own policies, rules or guidelines, we obscure their primary best serve our customers.
   Revisit your protocols for customers to insure their focus honors the spirit behind them. Having guidelines is meaningful, but adhering to them incessantly may not be the most prudent cause of action.

Fuzzy Logic

   It sounds like the title to Steely Dan album, but Fuzzy Logic is actually another term from the world of mathematics. It refers to the "in between" or gray areas of life. In a world of true or false, on or off, black or white, there can be an in-between state. There are shades of gray. Are customers either right or wrong? Perhaps they are a little of each.
   I've reached my term limit for this column. Meanwhile I encourage you to look beyond your chosen field of endeavor for ideas, concepts and practices you can apply to your business. Your twist on others' ideas may not only help you serve your clients better, but increase productivity, employee retention and even add to your client base. Whether you're at the opera, at the ballpark or on an airplane, see how others are operating and apply what works for you. Then these terms will become terms of endearment for you.