It's The Customer Who Pays The Wages

“It’s not the employer who pays the wages. They just handle the money. It’s the customer who pays the wages.” Henry Ford

Quick! Name the most powerful sales tool a business can have. One that costs nothing to buy, takes little to maintain and can leave your competitors reeling. No idea? Then chances are you’re missing out on it.

The answer is customer service. If people are treated well, two things happen. They buy more, and they come back more often. We don’t need a Harvard study to tell us that when people are treated badly they buy less or go somewhere else.

Unfortunately, most companies, from the mom-and-pop shop to the multinational corporation, spend heavily on advertising, facilities and inventory, and then work as hard as they can to drive customers away by subjecting them to poor service. As one person said, we’ve entered a service economy, and the only thing missing is service.

In fact, I am astounded. Some companies will advertise their great customer service, but they’ve never trained their employees to deliver it. Apparently, they’re hoping their employees see the ads and get the idea.

Despite the fact that customer service is far from stellar in many organizations, there is good news. According to Lisa Ford, one of the world’s foremost customer service authorities, if you will meet a customer’s five basic needs, the results can be magical.

=> 1. The first need is to feel understood.

Whenever a customer comes into your presence, remind yourself that the customer is coming with a problem looking for a solution. He will not be open to your products or services until he?s convinced that you understand the problem.

Forget your fancy pitches. Don’t waste your time on the features of your products or the benefits of your service. Look for the customer’s pain. Find out what’s missing or what’s not working. Ask questions and listen carefully. You have to connect before you sell.

You want the customer to feel that you really understand him, that you really care. You want him to feel that he CAN work with you … indeed, WANTS to work with you.

And you get lots of opportunities to make your customers feel understood. If you ever pick up the phone, for example, and hear one of your customers say, “You’re the third person I’ve spoken to in your company. Does anyone know what is going on around there?”, you know that customer needs to feel understood. It’s your turn to listen and deal with the customer’s emotions, whether or not it’s your official job.

=> 2. Second, the customer needs to feel welcome.

Look around your place of employment. Would you feel welcome coming into your workplace if you were a customer? Would the employees be easy to find? Would the employees make eye contact with you and offer a greeting within a few seconds? Would the employees even bother to learn and use your name?

One airline wanted to make sure they made their customers feel welcome. And they believed one of the best ways to do that would be to simply use the customer’s name. When a reservation clerk handed the ticket back to the customer, he would say, “Have a good trip, Mr. Jones … or … Hope you enjoy your flight, Ms. Watts.” The airlines found that their customer satisfaction scores rose a phenomenal 60% when they used the customer’s name. So making the customer feel welcome was not very difficult, and the payoff was incredible.

=> 3. Make the customer feel important.

That should be a no-brainer. Yet, in business after business, the employees don’t even thank the customers for their business. Check it out. You probably end up thanking a clerk for waiting on you a lot more often than they thank you for doing business with them. Now that’s just dead wrong! Whatever happened to common courtesy?

In one of my programs I was talking about how you could make your internal customers feel important … such things as a coupon for a free dinner, attendance at a special seminar, or even a valued parking spot. I’ll never forget one attendee who told us how honored he felt when he was selected as the “Top Customer Service Provider” of the month. It came with the privilege of parking next to the CEO’s car … near the entrance to the corporate office. The feeling of importance was soon lost, however, when he found out his special parking spot had expired two weeks before. Those who gave out the recognition forgot to inform him of the honor. That stinks!

=> 4. Make the customer feel comfortable.

Any business transaction comes with a bit of tension. Your customer may be overwhelmed with work, or you may be desperately trying to sell something to your customer. That’s life.

But tension gets in the way of positive relationships and long-term business. So ask yourself, “What does my customer need so he feels comfortable dealing with me and my company?”

Maybe your customer needs to sit down or needs a beverage. One restaurant makes sure there are plenty of chairs in the lobby so their guests can sit while waiting for a table. Another restaurant even serves free snacks to their waiting, hungry guests.

Maybe your customer needs privacy. If so, do you provide it? I remember sitting in a hospital lobby when a receptionist came out and loudly proclaimed, “Mr. Witherspoon, it’s time for your urine sample.” The old gentleman looked horribly embarrassed and uncomfortable as he walked into the lab.

Make a list of 20 things that your customers need. Ask your customer for some feedback to see if you’re on target. And then provide those things.

=> 5. Make your customer feel appreciated.

I know that goes a long, long ways towards earning my loyalty … or any customer’s loyalty. When I tried to check into the Marriott Las Palmas in Palm Springs, I was told they overbooked and had no room for me. Of course I wasn’t happy about that.

But they went the extra mile … indeed an extra ten miles … to let me know that they valued me and appreciated my business. They instantly put me into another nearby Marriott property, paid for that night’s lodging, gave me a $100 coupon for any food or service I might want, and sent a lovely basket of wine, cheese, fruit, and bread. I couldn’t have felt more appreciated if they had had my original room waiting for me. And despite the inconvenience of having to move to another hotel, their appreciation of me has earned my loyalty for years.

Superb customer service is not a mystery. It’s as simple as looking at every customer, knowing that each one of them has one or more of the five needs that have to be satisfied. When you meet those needs, the results will please you both.

Nothing costs less than customer service, and nothing pays bigger dividends than customer service. Unfortunately, great service is not a given; it’s not a natural. People have to be trained to deliver the service that builds loyal, enthusiastic, satisfied customers.

And if you’re getting a little burned out on having to deliver exceptional service all the time, I would suggest that you print out the following poem, post it near your desk, and read it at least once a day.


People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will make false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for some underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you’ve got

Action:  Sit down as a team. Write out the five customer needs on a flip chart. And then brainstorm a list of 10 ways you can meet each of the five needs. Give a copy of the list to every customer service provider and have them refer to it throughout their work day.