2007 Winter/Spring Volume 7 No. 1

Going Beyond Customer Service to Satisfaction and Loyalty

By Steve Baie, Southeast Regional Manager

In the portable sanitation business, the importance of loyal customers can’t be overestimated. If you have been in this business for a while and you have a strong company, I suspect that over 90 percent of your annual revenues come from customers that you have served for over one year.

It is important to remember that customers are always free to leave. When customers are dissatisfied, they typically tell nine other people. In a service business, your reputation can be your company’s biggest asset.

I recently read a newspaper report on retail businesses that found: by increasing customer retention a mere five percent, you can can increase profits by more than 65 percent and growth by more than 100 percent. I’ll bet those numbers are even higher in our industry.

Holding on to customers is obviously important. Losing them decreases profitability in a number of ways. It lowers what you can bill in a month; it decreases route density which drives up fuel costs and employee time; and, it drives up marketing costs as you try to replace lost business.

Therefore, one of the most profitable ways you can spend your time is working on improving customer satisfaction and thereby improving loyalty.

Satisfaction vs. Service
Customer satisfaction is often confused with customer service—the two are not necessarily the same thing. Satisfaction is how your customers feel about the service they receive and the people who provide it.

You can’t measure “satisfaction” the same way you measure “service” with clear objective results that you can track. For example you can find answers to questions like: Did the truck arrive on time? Was the restroom pumped out? Was it clean and fresh-smelling when the driver left?

You can measure service objectives by keeping charts and making spot checks. If all these things check out, you have good service. That’s the most important step you can take, but it isn’t the only step. That’s because there is no guarantee that good customer service will create high customer satisfaction. For example:

• Clean restrooms provided with a bad attitude can leave a customer feeling dissatisfied.
• Making an extra service call to clean an overused restroom is good service, but the fact that the unit was in bad shape to begin with may leave the customer feeling dissatisfied.
• Fixing or replacing a broken or vandalized unit is good service, but how long was the customer dealing with the broken unit before you became aware of it?
• Running out of toilet paper can make a customer feel dissatisfied.
• Arriving at the jobsite to find a tip-over can make a customer feel dissatisfied.
• If customers have to step through a mud puddle to get to the restroom, they will feel dissatisfied.

These are all difficult situations to control. Some can be improved, foreseen, and/or prevented. Others can’t. No business owner can prevent all incidents that lead to customer dissatisfaction, however too few businesses make an all-out attempt to try.

The secret to creating customer satis-faction is to show your customers through actions how much you care about their satisfaction.

Does the restroom look nice?
Does it smell nice?
Does it work properly?
Is it conveniently located?
Are your employees friendly and concerned about service?
Do you follow up with customers?
Do you ask them
what they think?
Are your trucks clean?
Do your employees wear uniforms and look like concerned service people?
Do you do anything creative or unexpected to create satisfaction?
Do you apologize when things aren’t right?
Do you apologize when bad things happen, even if it’s not your fault or the fault of your equipment?

I used to frequent a diner—George’s Gyros. The food was good. The service was friendly. But George was a real character! Whenever you came into his joint, he struck up a conversation and made you feel welcome and important. George had great rapport with his customers and employees. He would joke with them and they would joke back, but they obviously hustled to get your food to you hot, fast and done right. Broiler cooks thought nothing about bringing you your order if the waitress was busy, and everyone bussed tables. George built a great business with a large customer base. Then he sold it and made a big profit. I don’t know where he is today, probably retired and making friends with everyone on the beach.

The company that bought the business wasn’t friendly. Soon, many of George’s former employees had left and the restaurant was just another anonymous diner, where nobody remembered your name. It went out of business within two years. The service and food was still good, but there was no satisfaction, and no reason to be loyal.

Doing business with people you know, like and trust is so important that it can overrule almost everything else.

According to “The Loyalty Effect” by Fred Reichheld, it is impossible to build customer loyalty without employee loyalty and visa versa. Good employees want to work in a friendly environment where they can get to know people and be proud of their work, and they don’t like working for companies where that is difficult.

Like George’s Gyros, your business must have a culture based on sincere caring for the customer. Your employees need to feel empowered to do whatever needs to be done. George was good at both external customer relations and internal employee relations. Some of the signs that internal employee relations do not exist in a company are when you hear:

• “It’s not my job.”
• “People I work with don’t care how it gets done, only how fast.”
• “I tried it once. It didn’t work.”
• “I don’t have time.”

Customer loyalty doesn’t happen unless there is a commitment from frontline
employees, to own the relationship. This is a commitment to understand the customer's needs, to maintain effective communication, and to seek every reasonable way to satisfy the customer.

There are a lot of things business owners can do to encourage employees to own the customer. It starts with open com-munication. Every month meet with your employees on the topic. Ask employees what they think.

• What does the customer want?
• What can we afford to do that delivers more of what the customers want?
• What can we do to perform better service?
• What needs improvement?

Ask for and reward creative ideas that enhance the customer experience, such as these examples that I have heard about from other operators:

• One operator affixes a little plastic vase to the wall of special event units. Then whenever it is serviced she places a fresh carnation in the vase.

• Another found that the scent rings he placed on the toilet paper holder didn’t have the affect he wanted, so instead he uses twist ties to affix the ring on the vent screen. Now all the air flowing through his restrooms smells fresh.

• Another customer had paper welcome mats made with his company logo and phone number on it. He places a fresh mat on the floor each time he services.

• Another has a sticker on the inside of his restroom door with an 800 “emergency service” number on it, inviting anyone with a cell phone to
call if the unit has become unusable for any reason.

• Another puts a fresh paper ring across the seat after every service, like a
fancy hotel, to show it’s been cleaned.

These are some inexpensive ideas that provide the “extra touch” which shows you care. However, people skills and friendliness may be more important than the restroom itself.

Find ways to reward the frontline em-ployee for customer longevity. Many companies pay commission for bringing in new customers, but how many pay service operators for customer longevity? It can be easy to create a pay structure for service employees by paying bonuses for each year that a customer stays with you. When employees understand how they fit into the big picture, it's easier for them to improve their performance as they face a variety of service opportunities.

To achieve customer loyalty, a company must have management that genuinely wants to track and improve customer service and satisfaction with a sincere commitment to developing customer loyalty. These include:

• A powerful vision that translates into specific goals for employees to help achieve their loyalty goals,
• A measurement and monitoring system, and
• A reward and recognition system that aligns with the goals.
• Implement hiring processes that allow you to hire people who will stay with the company and who can perform at the level needed to deliver on the promises.
• Create an ongoing, customer satisfaction discussion group for all levels of employees.

Anyone in the service business must be willing to stick their neck out to ask customers how you can improve and what changes they might like to see. For example, ask:

• How is your service driver doing and what can he or she do better?
• What can your company do to go the extra mile?
• Do they like your product, or are there other restroom brands or deodorant scents they would prefer?
• Would they like hand sanitizers or sinks for an extra fee?

Your sincere interest in their feedback helps create customer satisfaction, it builds your relationship, and it leads to loyalty.

Finally, don’t forget to communicate to customers how much you appreciate their loyalty. Send an anniversary card or holiday card each year that celebrates another year of doing business together.

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