Who’s The Boss?

Selling service to your customers

Have you ever stopped to think about how you want to be served when you are the customer? Of course you have. The bigger question is: Do you make sure that your customers are treated as you want to be treated? Without your customer, you’re out of business. Sure, you have customers who make it seem that the only way you can get their business is by quoting the lowest price. Do you think they would let you quote if you didn’t have at least fair service? Of course not.

To all of us in business, our customer is our lifeblood. No customer, no sales. No sales, no profit. No profit, no payday.

New Customer Strategies
What recognition do you give to a new customer? At the suggestion of our owner’s wife, we send out a handwritten thank-you note to EVERY new customer we get. You would be surprised at how many customers feel that they finally have found someone who appreciates receiving their business.

After doing the thank-you cards for several years, we came up with a new (for us) idea about what we should do for our customers that are companies. After the company is sent its first invoice, we call and ask for the accounts payable department. We provide them with the name and phone number of a person to talk with in the receivables department at Lampton Welding Supply. We ask if they understand or have any questions about our invoice. Did we send the invoice to the correct place? Do they need additional or fewer copies? Think about it. The people who never get contacted, unless there is a problem, are the people in the payables department. Many times they ask us if we are sure we called the right place; they are not used to being singled out as important unless there is a delinquent invoice.

If the accounts payable people like you and know how to read your invoice, and they have a person to call if they have any questions, guess who will probably be at the top of the list to get paid?

Listening Is a Learned Skill
The above idea came up during one of our listening classes. If you don’t hear what the customer says, how will you serve them? Listening is important enough for us that we teach classes on it.

Through a series of 45-minute training sessions that include role playing, we teach salespeople, customer service reps, technicians and everyone who deals with customers how to ask questions and how to repeat to the customer what he says. We teach not to assume understanding of what is heard when a customer speaks. And we teach how to ask the customer the right questions. Through these classes, we work very hard on error prevention.

When the customer comes into your store, he is wondering when you will hear that he is there and acknowledge him. You should acknowledge him in the first 15 seconds or less from when he enters the store. Walk right up to that customer and say, “How may I serve you?” You know if he walked through the door of a welding supply store, he came to buy something.

When the phone rings, answer it right away. How you answer it can make or break you. Use “good morning” or “good afternoon,” the name of your company, your name and then “How may I help you?”

When customers are placed on hold, do you think that listening to music or sale information about the items of dead stock you are trying to get rid of will keep them from thinking they are on hold for a long time? Wrong! Last time you were on hold, did you enjoy it? I did; I signed checks, so I had something to do. I must admit, though, that the third or fourth time the message replayed, I wondered if they had forgotten me. But then, I did have my checks to work on. When they did answer the phone, I had to stop and remember why I called them. This is not what I want for our customers. In addition, many companies don’t change the message on hold very often, so when your customer has heard the same thing for the last six months or more, I’m sure that, like you, they wonder if the people they are calling ever pay attention to detail.

Most of us now have voicemail—that’s where your receptionist sends the call when you don’t want to talk to the person calling. That way, when you do call the person back, you can be prepared to say what it is you think they will want to hear. It could be one of those people you don’t want to call back, and then you can pass it off to someone else. Gee, they called you; think that’s who they wanted to talk to?

Who Do You Work For?
When is a customer not a customer? Some say when the product they bought wears out or when it is used up. It could be when they go out the door, or after you deliver products to them. For me, once a customer, always a customer. They are hard to find, and I treasure each and every one of them. Some desire special attention; all deserve it.

Thirty-five years ago, as I stood at our counter getting my tickets ready to go for my daily deliveries, our founder and then-president came in. He looked at me and said, “Guy, do you know that you don’t work for Lampton Welding Supply?” Let me tell you, he had my attention. I thought I had just been fired! He then said, “You work at Lampton Welding Supply. You don’t work for me, you work with me. Who you and I work for is the customer. You must remember, the customer is our boss. If he fires you, he fires me; and if he fires me, he fires you. We both must remember that or we are all out of a job.” He then said, “You are the newest man in our company, and I am the oldest man in our company. If we keep everyone between us thinking like that, we will be successful.”

We had one welding supply store then and now we have twelve. I think he had something there.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
72a_marlinguy Meet the Author
Guy Marlin is president of Lampton Welding Supply Company Inc., headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, and on the Web at www.lampton.com. He regularly conducts training programs for employees to help them better serve the company’s customers.