Everyone who has ever heard me talk or read one of my articles in Welding & Gases Today has heard me talk about the importance of building strong relationships. The title of my presentation says it right there in black and white. “Relationship Selling” isn’t a new or revolutionary concept. But there’s a reason why when you go to a Rolling Stones concert they’re always going to play Paint it Black. The classics and the hits don’t become famous by accident.
And, like they’ve heard me preach the gospel of relationship selling, everyone has heard me talk about the difference between customer service and customer relationships. Everyone should have great customer service. When a customer calls, you should be able to answer the phone and fill the order in a timely and professional manner. That’s not what sets you apart.
What sets you apart is building trust with your customers. Both internal and external. They should feel confident that when they call you with a problem or an emergency, you will be able to step in and help solve it. I worked in this business my whole career. And as much as I would have loved to say that we had better oxygen than the guy down the street because his had lumps in it, it just wasn’t true. What made us successful was the legwork. We went the extra mile to establish real, deep trust and relationships with our employees, who, in turn, did the same with their customers.
Everywhere you look these days you see people talking about the latest and greatest technology. Through COVID, we all got too familiar with the concept of “Zoom Calls” and “Teams Meetings.” And those serve their purpose. But they’re not the tools for building real, lasting relationships. And, if you don’t have real relationships with your customers, you’re competing on price alone. You can have all the technology in the world but if the customer can get that same technology from somebody else cheaper, you’re not going to have a customer anymore. You have to be able to show your worth and your value beyond just the gadgets and technology that you can provide.
I like to use Chick-Fil-A as an example. They make a great chicken sandwich, no question about it. But it’s not their sandwich or their prices that keep people coming back day-after-day. It’s that when you come in you’re going to be greeted with a smile. When you leave they will say I hope you have a wonderful day and when you say thank you for your meal they will always say, “my pleasure.” Yes, the product is important. But the experience, as a whole, is what sets it apart from other fast food places. And if they can do that at a fast food business, why can’t we do that in the industrial supply business?
Culture starts at the top. You can’t have a successful culture without buy-in up and down the organization. But most of our customers aren’t dealing with the President or the CEO. They’re dealing with sales managers or people at our service desks. You don’t get a second chance to make a good impression. If someone walks into your store and they see grumpy, unsmiling faces, that sets the tone for the entire transaction. And everybody is entitled to a bad day but if you are treating your internal customers with the same care and enthusiasm as you are your external customers, those bad days and grumpy dispositions should be the exception, not the norm.
Anybody can treat a customer with dignity and respect when the boss is standing right behind them. We need to make sure that our customers are treated with respect all the time. And I’ve found that the best way to ensure that our customer-facing people are treating their customers with respect is to make sure that we’re treating our customer-facing people with respect.
Technology is changing our industry. And for the better. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Our members have become successful because our customers trust them. And trust is earned and built over time and face-to-face. To my knowledge, they still haven’t built an app that can do that. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. But we know where we’ve been and we know the road that has gotten us here and it’s the same one that will ensure that we continue to be successful.
I look out over this industry that I grew up in with such pride. And I can’t wait to see how this next generation continues to build on the groundwork that has been laid by those that came before. And I can’t wait to see everyone in Philadelphia.