Monday, May 10, 2010

Tiffany's and the Service Sector

I was recently reminded that, despite what line of business you think you are in, you are also, perhaps predominantly, in the service sector. Everyone is – in one way or another - in the service sector, because everyone is in the business of taking care of their customers. I suppose there might be a true monopoly someplace on the planet that really and truly doesn’t and doesn’t need to care what anyone thinks about them. If so, they are a state run business in a dictatorship. But they certainly are keeping the dictator happy. And eventually the people will have enough and they – and the dictator – will be gone.

I was reminded about all this because I had cause to deal with a company that simply could not seem to get on the same page as their customer. The size of the deal should be irrelevant, though in this particular case the issue concerned transferring several tens of millions of dollars of raw material, and the potential for a long-term contract. Yet the company in question seemed to keep miss-stepping and ignoring the customer.

I compare this to a company that I have had the pleasure dealing with a few times over the course of my life: Tiffany’s. First, let me be clear, I am not a big customer; I have spent just a tiny amount in their store. But the fact is that each time I have bought something, and each time I have either visited a store or called them on the phone I have been treated like I was royalty. And the rules they follow can be applied anywhere (and should probably be applied everywhere).

First, everyone is polite to a fault. No matter what happens, no one raises his voice, no one gets short with a customer, no one gets upset. If there are problems, and certainly there must be, they deal with it out of sight and earshot of the customer. The personnel selection and training must be very good, not only to pick the right people, but also to train them and keep them motivated to maintain a positive attitude.

Second, everyone is knowledgeable. When you ask a question, you get an answer and it is right. Having run a number of fairly large organizations I can attest to how hard that is; that requires training and constant attention to detail by the middle managers. It is worth noting that I have never met anyone at Tiffany’s who is not bright and well informed.

Third, there is a real focus on you. This translates into real people on the phone, and once you get someone (which is nearly immediate, whether you are in a store or calling), you have to go quite a ways for them to turn you over to someone else; once you have a ‘rep,’ that rep is yours. This prevents you from having to tell your ‘story’ over and over again. Tell the salesman or saleswoman what you are looking for once and they have it. And then that person takes care of YOU.

I am sure there are folks who are reading this who will say “Yeah, but you paid for all that service.” Well, yes I did. And I also got exactly what I wanted each time I dealt with them. And I came away feeling great and thoroughly enjoyed spending my money. The real point is that I will gladly go back to Tiffany’s to buy things for my wife. In fact, I will probably go out of my way to deal with them, because I know I will get just what I want, when I want it. I paid a nice price for the jewelry I bought my wife, but they earned it, and they have earned my ‘loyalty’ as a customer. I don’t pretend to be like the Tsar, wealthy enough to have a ‘jeweler,’ but with Tiffany’s I can almost fantasize that I am so wealthy. Every company, every organization should be trying to make their customers feel that way, whether they are buying a used car, a load of sand or a fleet of airplanes: the feeling that ‘there is no one else on the whole planet that I would prefer to deal with.’ I encourage you to walk into a Tiffany’s and look around – you’ll learn a great deal about how you should function, no matter what you do.


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