Some of you might remember this. There used to be this concept in business, really not so long ago, of actually serving the customer.
Don’t get me wrong, making money is essential to keeping the doors open in business. I get that. I just also happen to believe that this quaint if not radical idea of customer service/satisfaction is a better way to get there.
Indeed, I see it as a basic blocking and tackling function of business. And yet, sometimes it’s hard, very hard, to get what seemingly would be proper customer support in day in age when digital technology has made communication virtually instantaneous.
Another Brick in the Wall
There is this disconnect for many companies and their customers. In the past week, I’ve been going around and around with LinkedIn, which I have used and appreciated over the years, in getting a technical problem solved. If only I could talk to a real person.
Geezerspeak: “Back in the day, we could talk to people and get things done. These kids today.”
I actually believe that customer service/satisfaction/support is just as important to millennials as it is to baby boomers. But some companies, particularly tech companies, have erected this wall. Maybe they think they are too busy to talk to their customers. Or maybe they are just afraid.
The Road Ahead
As a consultant to industry and economic development organizations, I have to talk and understand the needs of my customers. Focusing on their needs is our way forward.
And once a job is done, knowing that a client is pleased with our work, well, don’t you know that really rings our bell. The way I see it, if we do good work, the money and the business will largely take care of itself.
Now I know it’s more complicated than that. And I know some customers can be difficult or unrealistic. Still, you have to really work at serving them well. Go the extra mile.
Before we write and submit any proposal to a potential client, we want have an in-depth conversation and ask questions. In short, we want to understand what they want and need. A second conversation/conference call may be order.
And if we win their business, we owe them good work. Our job is not to regurgitate what we think clients might want to hear. In fact, sometimes we tell them just the opposite. It’s what they need to hear. Call it tough love.
We’ve done that with communities that are struggling to find their way in terms of being competitive for business growth, and we’ve done that for corporate clients needing a location for future operations. This is how we see the road ahead.
A few weeks ago, Tim Feemster, principal of Foremost Quality Logistics, and I were driving back to Dallas from a community in the Texas Panhandle where we had presented our findings from a SWOT/target industry analysis. We had done the work in conjunction with Jason Hamman, with the Cleveland-based Hamman Consulting Group.
Our report was written in plain English, not some weird, vague consultant speak. And we were rather tough and blunt in our findings and recommendations.
We Tell It Like We See It
Think about it for a moment. If you are paying us to gather information, which we do from both on-the-ground visits and accessing data bases, analyze the data, and then report our findings and recommendations, then we owe it to you to tell it like we see it.
The economic developer and his board of directors in the Texas Panhandle community were appreciative of our report. I truly believe we steered them in the right direction to focus on changes that need to be made.
Riding back in Tim’s car to Dallas, we felt pretty good about our work, knowing that we met the needs of our client and that there was a good level of customer satisfaction.
It’s why we stopped and celebrated at a Dairy Queen. We would have something a little stronger once we got home in Dallas.
That same sort of afterglow feeling happened a few weeks later in Northwest Florida, also known as the Florida Panhandle. My firm had been engaged to evaluate the competitiveness of an aged industrial park that had its pluses and minuses. I brought in my pal Jason Hamman to help.
The good part about the industrial park is that it has some blue chip aerospace companies in it. The bad is that there are some blighted properties in the park, in which owners and tenants have done things that would never be allowed in any good industrial park. And the blue chippers, who we interviewed off the record, were certainly not pleased about that.
Our report was hard hitting to say the very least. We presented our findings and recommendations during a special session meeting of a city council.
Afterward, the local economic developer, the city manager, the mayor and council, thanked us for essentially telling them what some had already suspected but needed to hear. They vowed that our report would be the basis for change to come.
Jason and I had our celebratory time at the departing airport. Alcohol may have been involved but it was well within reason.
That Outside Voice
You know, it’s a funny thing. I have concluded that one of the most important roles of consultant is not only saying what needs to be said, but sometimes confirming what is suspected but is not being said.
Sometimes people within an organization have already voiced an opinion or strategy on how to fix or do something, and sometimes to their own job peril. And sometimes they choose to remain silent.
Often what they need is outside confirmation or verification. They need that outside voice saying what essentially needs to be said that they cannot say or is being ignored.
Jesus is quoted as saying that a prophet isn’t accepted in his hometown, which probably holds true in every major religion. There really is something to that old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s one reason why companies and economic development organizations turn to us, the outside experts, for help.
As consultants, we have a certain credence bestowed to us because we are both outsiders and have a body of knowledge and experience. And that gives us the advantage and freedom to objectively report what we see and to make recommendations.
It’s Their Call
Every client is different of course. No two projects are ever the same. There are always some twists and turns and surprises.
But what is certain is that at the end of the day, it is the client’s call on whether to act on the information that we give to them. It’s their call.
In site selection for corporate clients, we give a short list of finalist communities. where we can actually take the company and kick dirt if need be. But it’s not our decision on where to go. It’s always the company’s decision. Always.
For economic development organizations, they can put our report on the shelf and let it gather dust or they can act on it. It’s their call. Always.
Of course, we know there are roadblocks and pushback to making change happen. But maybe, just maybe, we give that economic development organization some political cover to do what needs to be done by virtue of our third-party findings and recommendations.
You see, we’ve been economic developers. We’ve been in their shoes. We know the pressures they face.
Let There Be Light
Our role, and you can say this for any good consultancy in virtually any industry, is to bring light to a situation, to provide information and recommend certain courses of action.
Doing what is right by the client truly is customer service. And it’s really not such an old-fashioned idea.
Next week, I’m going to tell you about how New Orleans is trying to keep the momentum going in making transformation change. It’s a pretty interesting story.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 972-890-3733.