Family-owned companies try harder
In May, I took a group of Slovak entrepreneurs on an “Armagnac”, “Wine” and “Cognac” tour in Southwestern France. We enjoyed great wine, great small hotels and great restaurants.
I took my friends only to small places, well rated, but not at the top “Michelin” level. And often, we asked the locals where we could go for lunch or dinner.
There is something about these small family owned restaurants. They want you to feel at home, they talk with passion about the special of the day, they offer you a last drink “on the house”. And they were genuinely honored to host Slovaks (many places for the first time) and they made it felt.
It showed the benefits of small operations when it comes to customer attitude. Like others, small entrepreneurs also make mistakes, but it always seems to matter less somehow because they are not just doing a job, they are living their lives.
Customer attitude needs “soul”
I like procedures when it comes to customer service because it helps, especially the newcomers in an organization, to understand how to materialize customer service.
That being said, “soul” is what is the most missing in customer/supplier relationships. The customer is just behind someone doing a job, and following some procedures.
You cannot train “soul”. This comes more or less naturally. You can tell an employee that the customer is important, that the customer brings money in the company, that it’s the customer’s money that is used to pay salaries. All of that is fine, but there is no “soul”, there is none of that committment that is going to result in a real customer/seller relationship.
And worse of all, it stops working as soon as there is the slightest problem.
“Soul” does not equal communication
I have seen many “communicating with customers” trainings. Companies that seeked to improve customer satisfaction worked on communication. Countless programs were invented, countless employees were subjected to speeches, role plays and what not in a very theoretical customer relationship policy.
In the end, and even in large firms for which we expected better, communication with customers just became a training on automated and pre-chewed responses to customer inquiries and remarks. No organization can really improve its customer service if it only thinks that it’s just a technical issue with communication.
Do not get me wrong, communication will work, but if there is something to communicate.
Do the employees feel that the customer is a respected person in the organization? Can the organization renew itself and admit when it is wrong? On what does the organization focus when talking internally to its employees, how does top management set the example, and how are concrete cases debriefed internally and learned from?
Does of any of this exist? Let me blunt, in some companies that thrived from their dominant position, noone even thinks about the above because as long as revenue comes in, it must mean that customers are happy. And if revenue does not come in, it’s the fault of the employees who do not communicate well. Let’s train them with the most expensive firms on the market.
And in the end it does not work. Surprised?
It’s all about care
In those small restaurants I was talking about in the beginning, “soul” is there because people own the place. It’s their creation, they want it to work, they want it to be successful, and they make no charts about it, they go with a feeling.
And the employees follow suit, because they feel part of the family.
That family is bond by the commitment of the owners to make the small operation a success. The owner is also very present, cooking, serving, talking to customers, making those small decisions such as offering a second round of coffee or a drink. Employees see that, they relate to that, and for the most part they start to understand how much the owner cares, and how much it is important to provide to customers the experience that they need.
In such firms, there is no hiding behind some customer satisfaction charts or an empty speech.
What firms need is an exemplary message from top down showing great care about the customer experience.
Given the challenges shown in the latest “Global Competitiveness Report, it is more than time to rethink how we are going to give to every customer a great experience and modernize our customer approach with fresher and more critical thinking.