Best Practices

Going Beyond Customer Service: Every company provides good customer service. Separate yourself by building good customer relationships.

I’ve been in this business forever. Like every other kid growing up in the family business, I had worked summers at Welders Supply all through high school. I worked in the warehouse and painted cylinders and did everything that the owner’s kid is supposed to do. But I was in college when I started to seriously think about my career at Welders. I approached my dad and said, “Dad, I’m going to quit school.” And he said, “I really wish you would stay but your timing couldn’t be better. We have a job for you.”

So, I quit school and came back to Dallas on my first day to work, dressed in a nice coat and tie. I was met at the door by the Vice President of our company who said, “What on earth are you dressed like that for?” And my first instinct was, wow, this company really needs me. They obviously don’t communicate!

So, I responded, “Mr. Henderson, didn’t Dad tell you? I’ve decided to quit school and work at Welders full-time.”

And he said, “Well, he did tell me that. But apparently, he forgot to tell you. Did you ask what the job was?”

Turns out, rather than waltzing into the company as the Executive Vice President of Hosting Golf Tournaments or some other fancy title, I was hired to drive our cylinder truck from branch to branch. It was the hardest job at the company. I did it for eight months before I approached my dad and said, “I’ve got a confession to make. Turns out I’m not near as smart as I thought I was. And therefore, I would like to go back to school and finish.” And I did and I came back with a whole different attitude.

Working on that cylinder truck for eight months might have been miserable at the time, but it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my career. It gave me a whole new appreciation for those positions like the drivers and the pumpers. Those are the folks that touch the customer more than anybody. That’s where the rubber meets the road. It demonstrated to me not only how important it was to make sure that we always take care of those folks on the front lines, but how important it was to the customers that we deliver to.

Customer Service vs. Customer Relationships

To me, there is an enormous difference between customer service and customer relations. Customer service is making sure that you do everything right the first time. The phone rings, the person at the counter answers it, writes the order down, puts it in the computer and puts it out for delivery. It’s filled correctly and it’s delivered when we say we’re going to deliver it. That should be the bare minimum expectation of the customer.

Every company touts its “great customer service.” Not many people go around saying, “I’ve got the cheapest price in town, but our customer service is really bad. We’ll get it to you, but I don’t know when. But I do know that it will be cheap whenever it does arrive!”

Customer relations, on the other hand, requires actually sitting down with your customer on a regular basis and getting to know them. Finding out the little things makes all the difference.

I like to give an example. Everybody with a Facebook knows your birthday. You ought to know your customer’s date of birth. But more important than that, to me, is you should know your customer’s date of hire. There was a customer that I was calling on from my first day at the company. He continued to move up within his organization. Every year, I called him on his anniversary and told him, “Congratulations on another year at your company. They’re lucky to have you!” On his 25th Anniversary, Welders Supply sent him a big green plant with a card that said, “Congratulations on 25 Years. What a great accomplishment. From your friends at Welders Supply.” He set it on the edge of his desk.

Well, the president of the company walked through his office that day and said, “Oh my gosh, somebody must think an awful lot of you. What’s that all about?” And David said, “Well, you know Randy Squibb, he’s over here all the time?” “Oh yeah, the welding guy?” “Yeah that’s him. Well, today is my 25th anniversary with the company and my friends over at Welders sent me this plant.” Can you imagine how the president of the company felt when the guy in the welding business remembered David’s date of hire, especially on a significant one like 25?

Now, does that mean I’m going to win every single piece of business that that company has? No. Does it mean I’m probably going to win all ties? Absolutely. It’s taking the time to sit down and get to know your customer. Forming a real relationship.

Don’t be in such a hurry. Don’t go in there to get in and get out and get the order and run. Take the time to know your customer and what your customer’s needs and desires are. And it’s particularly important when you’re going after a new piece of business. Too many times we go in and we start throwing up, is what I call it. “We’ve got the largest number of delivery trucks, the fastest delivery service, the most competitive prices in town.” And the customer is sitting there thinking, “Why should I change? Your oxygen is the exact same as 19 other people in Dallas, Texas.”

I’d love to tell them that our competitor’s oxygen has lumps in it and ours doesn’t but it’s just not true. So, you need to give them a reason to buy from you. That’s the difference between relationship selling and customer service.

Finally, I think there are three things that go into building relationships with customers.

  1. Positivity – In order to be successful, you have to have positive people running your company. That sets the tone. A positive attitude drives a positive attitude. And a negative attitude does the same. Negativity can flow throughout an organization. I want to make sure that I surround myself with positive people. You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room to have a positive attitude.
  2. K I S S – We try to make this business too hard today. We’re selling industrial gases, specialty gases and welding equipment. It’s not brain surgery in order to do this. Sometimes, if we can just step back and take a look at the entire picture and realize what we’re really trying to do is provide a service that is at a competitive price, and if we can make some money at the end of the day, that’s great. But it’s absolutely trying to simplify this business. I use the acronym KISS. Keep it simple stupid.
  3. Remove Roadblocks – Remove roadblocks from making us the best we can be with our customers. If a customer comes in and he buys an electrode holder and he brings it back the next day, don’t make them jump through hoops to return it. Just remove the roadblocks. We’re not only salespeople, we’re roadblock removers. We want to remove every roadblock there is from that customer doing business with us. I want to be the supplier that a problem never hits my purchasing agent or the owner of the company’s desk. I don’t want to have anything that we do that ever calls attention to it other than in a very positive manner.

They say that kindness doesn’t cost anything. Building real relationships with your customers doesn’t cost anything either. In fact, it could help drive profits.

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