13 Platinum Quality and Service Concepts
for the New Decade
The year was 1982. It was the year Quality really came to life.
That was the year Peters & Waterman and their book In Search of
Excellence took business by storm. WorldWide.
That was the year Lee Iacocca told us the New Chrysler Corporation was
building a quality product. Finally.
What does all this mean to us today? As we stare the 21st Century in
Let me begin with a story. Recently I studied the relationship of the
printing industry and the direct marketing industry. And how they work
with each other - - together. The prime focus was to learn of significant
changes in the last decade. Here's what I found:
Nothing really happened! NOTHING. Except, the 2 trends
of the '80s are still valid today ... even more so;
. . . Quality IS a key factor in total customer
. . . Service IS expected - even more so..
Am I saying technology is not important? Of course not.
What I am saying is technology is NOT driving the marketplace. A quality
product brought to the market with an exceptional level of service is
much more important to customers.
I have a couple of philosophies about all of this. First, we're simply
drowning in information. We have so much of it in our life every hour,
every day, every week we can't begin to know what to do with it all.
You see . . . I firmly believe . . .
"We are not in the "information" age.
Instead, we're in The Knowledge Era.
"The Knowledge Era" says we must know how to creatively
turn all that 'information' available to us into something we can use.
i.e., serve the customer.
What really moves the marketplace is knowledge. Or the lack of it. Positive
knowledge, knowledge that educates, helps move a product through to the
user. Lack of knowledge, or a negative approach, prevents action, and
in fact reduces sales.
My second philosophy is titled QST. The Q represents Quality...the
S is Service...and the T stands for Technology.
Yet, not the technology you might think.
No, the T represents PEOPLE ... I call it People-Tech.
The idea is PEOPLE build Quality...PEOPLE offer Service. And without PEOPLE
you do not have a business. You do not have customer care. People make
it all happen. Period!
This Baker's Dozen Collection will share with you ideas about marketing,
about quality, about service, about customer care ... about QST...about
PEOPLE. 13 ideas about how to "think" like
a direct marketer while communicating with your customers.
1. "High quality" products are expected
Quality is not easy to define. It can be very subjective.
We'll probably all agree a Rolex is a finer timepiece than a Timex. A
Ferrari automobile offers more than Nissan. Still, we expect a certain
level of "quality" out of the Timex and Nissan. Not as much
as the Rolex and Ferrari - still, something.
So, what is quality? Quality - according to the dictionary - is a collection
of features, of elements, of characteristics applied to a specific product
or service. It has the "feeling" of excellence. Superiority. A rare
position. Held in high regard. That's the "formal" definition.
Quality in marketing is more - and different. Quality is meeting - and
exceeding -customers expectations. It is performance. It is fulfilling
the promise. It is providing.
It is doing what you say you will do..
Recently I bought a new notebook computer. The transaction happened 100%
via phone and E-mail. The equipment came in 3 shipments, as expected,
over a short, and agreed upon timeframe. These are all service issues
- and Compaq performed. Plus, everything I ordered came. They fulfilled
the quality promise, too.
2. The "best" service is expected
If quality is tough - service is tougher.
Why? Because it is based totally on people. To a degree a product is
a product is a product. A rose is a rose is a rose. To a degree.
Not so with service. It is you and your customer. Face-to-face. Over
the telephone. Through E-mail or fax. In a piece of direct mail. A television
or print ad. It is very personal communication. It is true one-to-one.
Not long ago I was part of 50 people who dropped in, without a reservation,
at a no-name coffee shop. In a very small rural town. For breakfast. About
8:45 on a Friday morning. Yes, we'd been there before. We knew the food
was good quality. So we returned for more..
This time some of the 50 had a "service" problem. Not a surprise,
when a smallish independent restaurant, who cooks everything to order,
is not expecting a crowd after the usual Friday morning regulars have
come and gone.
Me - I was in the right place - service began with me. It was grand.
I even complimented the young lady who was our server. And over tipped.
That feeling and response was not the same for everyone in our group.
Service rarely is..
Service has always been in details of attention, as defined by the customer.
In the decade ahead it will be - only more so.
3. Develop product and service guarantees
Guarantees have been a part of marketing for at least 250 years. Since
the middle of the 1700's. As the next century begins guarantees are universally
Your product can cost pennies - or millions. It can be a standard or
truly new and unique. Your company can be an old timer on the stock exchange
... or a dot.com start-up. You may offer a service - vs. a touch and feel
None of this matters. It only matters to the customer that you stand
solidly behind what you sell. Without exception. Period.
A while back I had need for cell-phone service. The idea was to add,
as a back-up, a separate cellular telephone service option to my very
remote office location ... deep in the agricultural desert of southwest
In theory cell phones work from everywhere. We all know the reality is
otherwise. My Roll, Arizona location was definitely an "otherwise".
Yet, when I went back to the supplier and asked to return everything,
because it did not work from my location, I was met with "you
signed a contract". Instead of "How can we make this right?"
Cellular One was the company - one I will never do business with again.
Simply because their definition of "guarantee" was one-sided. For
An attitude like this in the decade ahead will bring a company to its'
knees. You must offer a strong guarantee - for the customers benefit.
4. Know who your high volume customers are ... and do something with
Yes, knowledge can be power. When you use it!
Use some of the knowledge you have of your customers to identify those
who are your very best. That is what databases are all about. And yes,
they are in the news. Privacy is a real and serious issue. Still, when
you are talking with your customers, they EXPECT you to know who they
How many times have you received a phone call or piece of mail or fax
or E-mail invitation to join something you already belong to? It has happened
to all of us. Those of us in marketing can explain why it happens
- the customer does not care. They only "see" you viewing them as
a number. And not a valued customer.
So, dig deep into your knowledge bank. Learn who are your best customers.
And then . . .
5. Do special things for your special repeat customers
The frequent flyer / guest programs of the airlines and major hotel chains
get a lot of ink. Much of it unfavorable.
Yet, I feel we all can learn from the folks who have been doing special
things for special repeat customers the last quarter of the 20th
century. And take that knowledge with us into the next decade.
What you do is not nearly as important as simple recognition. Let me
use an airline example. My flying choice is United and their Star Alliance
partners. Has been since the program began mid-spring of 1981. Most of
the time between then and now I've been in their top tier of customers.
Let me share with you some of the attention I receive;
... get met on international arrivals and "hand-delivered"
... have first choice of meal service aboard most flights
... am offered special check-in counters, most often with short waits
... in many major airports a separate work / lounge area is available
... am automatically upgraded to the next class of service.
None of these "special things" are all that great. None of them
individually amount to much. Yet, when you fly 100,000 to 200,000 miles
a year, as I do, they do mean something.
Oh, and they cost United just about nothing. It pays to take care of
your customers. They'll not only continue to repeat - they'll say nice
things about you.
6. Follow-up with all new customers - let them know you care
The folks at Compaq Direct, where my new notebook came from, know
how to do this.
The gentlemen who coordinated my buy over the phone and by E-mail sent
me an E-mail the day after all was completed. To check in and offer immediate
need follow-up and service. If I had such a need.
After they faxed everything and all was finalized, the financial guys
who pushed the paper and guarantee and service contract, did likewise.
Something like 10 days after all was delivered a phone call came, too.
To make certain everything was in order. And to ask if I had questions.
About a month later the phone telesales rep did another E-mail follow-up.
Frankly, I was overwhelmed. Everyone at Compaq was doing their job. And
doing it well.
Oh, I almost forgot; there was a problem. Over the week-end between
the buy and the paper work the contract was lost inside Compaq. No one
knew what happened, or why. Yet, it did not matter. Because within minutes
of that "discovery" everything was back on track. And
I forgot about it because everything flowed. Which really means there
was a "system" in place. And it worked.
New customers come at a steep price. Treat them well and turn them into
ongoing, loyal, frequent users for you. Your new customer expects you
7. Survey to learn your customers' expectations
The key word here is not the first word - survey. The key word
is the last word - expectations.
How you learn what your customer expects is not nearly as important as
knowing what those expectations are.
As I am writing this I have telephone calls and E-mail messages into
2 people. I am a third-party on a project. I was not there from the beginning,
and I have questions. It is not logical to perform to a level of expectation
if you do not know what that level is. So, before I truly begin, I'm asking
the top folks to tell me what is important to them.
This concept is entry level action of the selling world. Successful sales
reps ask questions ... shut up! ... and listen. The prospect becomes a
customer because they tell the rep what it will take to win the order.
The marketing world must adopt this concept. As we move rapidly into
less face-to-face and more electronic marketing and sales - it is more
important than ever to know what your customer expects. Because they expect
you to know.
Seek and ye shall find. Ask - you'll be amazed at what you'll learn.
8. Give your customers a way to compliment and complain
For a couple of decades the travel industry has allowed us to "comment".
With those little cards on room service food trays and in hotel sleeping
rooms. Asking for an honest evaluation of their facilities, their people,
How many have you filled out? Good or bad?
The only one I can remember was for horrid service during a business
speaking engagement held in a "tourist" hotel. Where the staff was
trained for families with kids - and not a group of business ladies and
gentlemen, there to work. The response from this major hotel chain to
my words; a form letter! Bad became worse.
On the good side; placed a birthday present order over a toll-free 800
number. Asked for delivery by a specific date - in time for the birthday.
The Sunday before the Tuesday event no present. I called. Talked with
Beth. Who overnight shipped my order - at her expense. Problem solved.
And then Beth and The Company Store sent a cash gift certificate good
on any purchase within the next 12 months for anything in their catalog
or on their web site.
Similar good experiences with Sharper Image and Shapeless - where a "small"
problem was solved with extra-ordinary follow-up and service.
These companies are making it easy to feel comfortable in doing business
with them. We must make it easy for our customers to share with us what
they want to talk about. We must listen to their concerns, their comments,
their ideas. And respond to their specifics.
If it's true bad news travels 9 times faster than good news - our customers
will either be our best friend - or our worst enemy. Give your customers
a way to talk with you. For the good news ... and the not so good news,
9. Communicate well internally, too. - empower your people to make decisions
There are those who feel the customer is not always right. There
are a few companies who feel employees come first.
Well, maybe - maybe not. To each concept.
If you feel the customer comes first - all your employees must also believe
the same. And be taught to respond accordingly.
If you feel putting employees first will "automatically" create
an atmosphere where the customer wins - you must share that expression
with your team.
And no matter your persuasion, internal communication is the only way
your marketing and sales objectives will be met. For both views, people
- your employees - talking with and working with your customers, must
have authority to act. To do. To make decisions. To meet needs. To offer
The GE Answer Center in Louisville, Kentucky has given their team such
a charge. The foundation is the telereps have full authority to say Ayes"
to anything the customer requests ... they must ask their supervisor for
permission to say "no"! Powerful stuff. No wonder GE is so successful
How you satisfy is not important. That you satisfy is. Your customer
expects to be satisfied.
10. Involve your suppliers in Q & S efforts
If there ever was a business island, there is no longer. The World Wide
Web saw to that. Isolation is dead.
In fact, more and more we see outsourcing happening. Where partnerships
are built between sellers and buyers. Between different, and sometimes
Why is this happening? Well, of course, some of it is economics. Costs.
Yet, a lot of it is expertise. Someone else can do something better than
you can - so you get together and work together. Who wins when this happens?
No surprise - the customer.
Since this approach is fact in production - it must be so in quality,
service and customer care.
A story; Canada Post Corporation has an alliance with Air Canada. Express
packages across Canada must be delivered within the specified time or
Air Canada does not get paid. No excuses. Period.
It is no surprise service and delivery has greatly improved. Because
not only does the shipping customer and receiving customer care, not only
does Canada Post care, so does Air Canada. It truly is an every one win
When everyone thinks about the customer - you build happy customers.
11. Identify up-sell & cross-sell opportunities
While we're talking suppliers, let's tie them in with sales opportunities,
Some feel selling and quality and service should not be spoken in the
same breath. Wrong. They are equal. You can't offer any one of the three
factors without the others being involved. There is every reason why your
customers should know about all you offer.
And I can guarantee you they do not. No matter the level of your promotion,
your customers do not know all you bring to the table. Why is this so?
Because the first time you shared your story they had a single need. They
heard only what they needed to hear. And nothing more. Ditto the next
time. And the next. All of which is why you must repeat your message.
Over and over - again and again..
The worlds most recognized icon is Coca-Cola. Every day of your life
you will see or hear something about Coke. They are everywhere. They have
been, they will be. The theory is you build reputation with repetition.
Coke is right. Rarely does anything work as well the first time as it
does with repetition. Loyalty and frequently are built on repeat messages.
And your suppliers ... for their benefit too! ... can help. Joint programs,
The notebook I'm using to write this message has the "Intel inside"
logo on the keyboard. And Microsoft Windows logo. In addition to the Compaq
name. Yours probably has a similar collection.
The 21st Century is the time of working together, of sharing,
of cooperation. Ask your suppliers to work with you to benefit your customers.
12. Let your customer know about your marketing efforts, your management
decisions, anything new, anything different
Your customers want to know what you're doing. So tell 'em!
It's not so much they can't wait to know what's new. It's more "Don't
hide things from me." Because you can't anyway!
Not long ago I attended a motor home / recreation vehicle / camping /
vacation and travel show. Big event. Hundreds of exhibits. Thousands of
products. Literally millions of square feet of space and hundreds of thousands
In the middle of all this hustle was a display of computers. Hooked up
so the visitors could catch their E-mail while visiting the show. I found
this particularly interesting, because the audience was the 50+ age group.
Not a kid in sight. These people, many retired, did not wish to be away
from communication for even a day while at a trade show. A smart marketer
put up a dozen PC's to allow their customers to check in with the world.
It was a busy spot..
You may have a newsletter or custom publication. You may have 24/7 service.
You may have a web site updated daily or weekly. You may have bricks and
mortar and kiosks and other physical locations. You may have toll-free
numbers to call. And fax-back options to supply hard copies. "live"
E-mail response. Chat rooms.
Whatever you do - talk to your customers. Nothing is more embarrassing
than having your competition tell your customers their version of your
story. Don't let it happen - get there first. Your customer wants to know.
13. Treat all people the way they wish to be treated
A twist on the Golden Rule; Treat all people the way they wish to be
In business it is not as you wish - it IS how your customers want
it. This is not difficult. You simply ask.
A short while back I was in the middle of a "difficult" business
deal. The other side wanted to hash over the same points again and again.
All history. And history we could not change. Reflection was over.
So I said, "what do you want me to do next?" That is, what
do you see as the next step? What do you want me to do?
At first there was surprise. They wanted to continue the argument. I
saw no value in that - and wished to move on. Let's get to where we're
going - together. So my question.
Of course when I received direction I countered with, "fine ...
now what are YOU going to do next?" They were surprised at this,
too. Yet steps were taken. We both moved - and before the day was out
had shaken hands on a deal.
Ask questions. Talk with your customers. Yes, challenge them. Learn by
listening. And observe too ... frequently response and action are different
than voice and words.
An eon ago I met a controller in a large, successful company. He had
been there 25+ years. I commented he must love his job. His response,
"Oh, I love what I do ... I hate customers!"
Well, I was more than surprised - I was completely taken back. Had no
response to such a bold statement. What this guy did not recognize was
that without customers he would have no job to love.
Show you care about your customers ... treat them the way they
wish to be treated.
That's it. 13 Platinum Quality & Service Concepts for the
New Decade. Put them each to work for your benefit - and that of your