August 1, 2012

Dump trucks, Diamonds and Customer Service

Dump trucks, diamonds and Customer ServiceBy Patrick Mahan

Once upon a time, I worked for the largest furniture store in Texas. I was young—fresh out of college—and it was the beginning of my career in Sales and Marketing. Selling and delivering furniture wasn't much fun and I realized quickly that it was not something I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.

But the lessons I learned in that furniture store will last a lifetime. And I owe a big heap of gratitude to the owner of that store, an eccentric businessman known throughout Houston as "Mattress Mack".

I've never met anyone with a mind like Mack. A marketing genius with a flair for wild promotions and an obsession with customer service. His commercials run every two minutes in the Houston area. If Disney built a furniture store, they would model it after this place. He greets customers at the front door. All day. Every day. And he signs autographs!

Inside the store—which is about the size of a Super Walmart—you'll find live monkeys, parrots, Elvis Presley's Cadillac, Jeff Gordon's NASCAR, Princess Diana's diamond neckless ... and of course, lots of furniture.

I could fill an entire blog with the lessons I learned at Gallery Furniture, but I'll just share a few here. Starting with Mack's "Dump Truck Story". I may not tell it exactly as I heard it years ago, but you'll get the idea...

Imagine a dump truck driving down the road. It is filled with gravel. If a tiny rock jumped out of the truck bed and bounced down the street, no one would give it a second thought. No one would even notice. But what if that same dump truck was filled with diamonds. And a diamond jumped out of the truck and bounced down the street? People would dive on top of it! The driver would slam on the brakes and come to a screeching halt. He would fight off all the people and do whatever it took to get that diamond back in the truck.

The lesson here is that most business owners treat their customers like gravel. If one gets away, so be it. There's plenty more where that one came from. But a *real* businessperson, one that cares about his customers, the livelihood of his employees and the survival of his business, will treat each customer like a diamond.

When one jumps ship (because they are disgruntled or just want to get a better price down the road), do whatever it takes to get them back on board. Customers aren't that easy to come by these days. Your competitors are just a click away—and ready to dive on top of that diamond that just bounced out of your truck!

When you treat your customers like royalty, they will reward you with their loyalty.

The moral of this story applies not just to current customers, but prospective customers as well. When someone expresses interest in your product or service, keep them on the hook. Don't let them leave or hang up without trying to capture their email address. This is the best way to stay in touch. They may not be ready to buy today, but if you can stay in front of them (with a newsletter, coupons, promotions, etc), then when the time is right, they'll come back to you.

Just be absolutely certain that you give them something of value. Don't expect them to give you their email address for nothing. You must earn their trust, get their permission—and NEVER abuse it.

A recent example: A new restaurant opened in town. A small, independently owned restaurant that serves beer and buffalo wings. I went there for lunch. It wasn't bad. I ordered my food and left. I walked out the door in the same way that piece of gravel jumped out of the dump truck. There was no effort to make a connection with me. They could have enticed me to give them my email address, or Like them on Facebook, or give me a loyalty card, or maybe a coupon... something to stay connected... but I got nothing. And I noticed the place is now abandoned. They lasted all of about 3 months.

On the flip side, what if they had treated their customers like diamonds? What if they had made a connection with every customer that walked in the door before they bounced away down the street? They could have built an email list and reached out to those people with something of value to get them back in the restaurant. But instead, their profits dwindled, they had no one to reach out to, and the place closed.

Now look at your business. Are you treating your customers like diamonds or gravel?

I'll leave you with a few of my favorite words of wisdom from "Mattress Mack"...

When someone was complaining about doing a job, he said: "Don't tell me about the labor pains, just show me the baby!"

When times get tough: "Never give up! We're gonna fight till hell freezes over, then give them one more round on the ice!"

"Some people see the cup half full, some see it half empty... I see that sumbitch over-flowing!"

"Some of these customers have never been to Gallery Furniture before... treat it like a first date."

"These customers can buy furniture at 100’s of other stores, but only at Gallery will they be treated like Kings and Queens. Treat every customer like they are your last."

"Every week when you get your paycheck realize that’s the customers’ money that allows you to make your car payments and house payments. Take care of the customer and they’ll take care of you."
"Today is gonna be the greatest day in the history of the store because we’ve put ourselves in a position to win and most of all we deserve it. No other furniture store on the planet works as hard as we do to take care of these customers."
"Promises made, promises kept. You break a promise and you’ve lost credibility forever."
“Cut out the complexity. Make everything better, faster, cheaper, simpler."
"The #1 question people want to know is: 'What’s in it for me?'"
"Set apart some time to recharge your batteries. Even the best attack dog in the world can’t be on attack 24 hours a day."
"Imagine that everyone has M.M.F.I. tattooed across their forehead... Make Me Feel Important."
Now here's a P.S. While your mission should be to treat every customer like a diamond, there are certain times when it is okay to "fire" a customer. Mack said, "Run to good customers and run like hell from bad customers." I wrote about that in another blog post: Insatiable, Abusive Customers Need to Be Fired!

Another related post talks about the importance of giving customers a "take-away". That is, something like a gift or souvenir that they can keep. Something that will remind them of you later. Read a great example of that here: 
A Priceless Marketing Lesson from My 18-month-old Niece.

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