Business or people business?

Starbucks said they are not in a coffee business but in a people business (although they had an incident that they didn’t treat people well). It proved so costly for Starbucks by shutting down the whole N. America operations for half a day and re-did staff training!

Key takeaways:

  • work with passion & love or you are in the wrong job;
  • people come back not always because of your products but your people;
  • it costs more to attract a new customer than retaining an existing one.

I will share with you my recent experience with sales people in this blog post.

Case One:
A lady called me trying to sell me a upgrade of a hotel group membership. In fact, I was interested because this upgraded membership (a bit like a premium economy class) can save me some money when I travel. The lady called just about 5 mins before I needed to go for a meeting. I let her know my interests and asked her to call me again the day after. To my surprise, she said: “I don’t work tomorrow (roster off at the call centre).” I told her: “Perhaps you can call me around 7.30 tonight?” Then to my surprise again, she said: “I finish my job by 6 today.” Trying to give her a chance to sell, then I said: “How about you call again on next Monday, so I could discuss the offer with my business partner?” She replied with something I can’t quite understand: “I am off next Monday.” Well….. do you expect me (your potential customer) to work around your (the sales person) schedule?

Case Two:
I made an appointment with a banker at a local bank branch at 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon because the bank was not closed until 5 on Fridays. The bank closed by 4 on other weekdays. I stepped into the bank and the banker greeted me. When he realised that I came to do the paperwork for opening a new business account, then he looked at his watch, working on his keyboard and said: “Dr. Wu, there are complex paperwork we need to do for this new account and it’s already 4.30. It’s not fair for me to work on this (because it’s 4.30 on a Friday afternoon).” Although I filled in all the forms online, the requirement was for me to show up at a local branch so the bank can verify my ID. I then asked: “How long does it take to finish all paperwork?” Unhappily, the banker replied: “It’s a long process (obviously going beyond 5pm!). I will see whether I can do it as quickly as possible. You should have come earlier for this paperwork.” I noticed his unhappiness and unwillingness to work beyond 4.30 on a Friday afternoon. He even asked me: “Could you come next week, given it’s already late today (4.30pm)?” So, this is what you tell your customer when they come in after 4.30? I was puzzled.

Case Three:
It’s often not easy to find good coffee when I go for a research trip in China. The city my research collaborators are based is a so-called ‘2nd-tier’ Chinese city. There are Starbucks in that city but not many and certainly not around the campus I work on. Quickly I found that the Americano (a.k.a. the black American coffee) served at a local KFC was actually good (perhaps not great), so I went there every morning to fetch my morning coffee on my way to office. On an afternoon, I went for a small grocery shopping in a local supermarket right next to the KFC. The supermarket didn’t provide plastic bags for customers (to my surprise!), so I ended up carrying quite a few items in my hand. Before heading back to my hotel room, I popped into the KFC next door hoping to get an afternoon coffee. For the past few days, I had met the same KFC girl at the counter when I got my coffee. She must have remembered me because that’s “dude with his coffee mug for an Americano” again. ^_< I ordered my coffee and struggled to get my phone to pay for my coffee because I carried quite some items in my hands (you probably can imagine…). I must have looked funny, I believe. While a line of customers were queueing after me, she was kind enough not to hurry me. She disappeared for a few seconds and came back to me with a big KFC paper bag and a smile: “You can put your grocery in this paper bag. It’s easier for you.” I was so happy because she did the ‘extra mile’ that a KFC girl didn’t need to do; she cared about her customers.

If I were the sales person in Case One and Two, I would be more than happy to call a customer again whenever he/she is available, given the understanding that there is a potential sale around the corner. If I were the banker, I would certainly finish the works and take the opportunity to do further sales. Perhaps this customer is a millionaire who would take a big loan with me? What an opportunity! There must be a reason why this customer comes in at 4.30 on a Friday afternoon with an 8-yo kid! A lot of conversations could start from there and win the ‘heart’ of this customer. By this standard, the KFC girl already won my heart!

We, as a customer expect quality services. When we can’t find one, we look for one because there is always someone there who is willing to take the ‘extra mile’ and win customer’s heart. If you have customers, then try to win their hearts. They will be with you as long as they like you as a trading partner.

Dr. C. Richard Wu @ REEAConsulting.com

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