Customer Service Wake-Up Call

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.

Listening Is a Learned Skill
If you don’t hear what the customer says, how will you serve them? Listening is important enough for us at Lampton 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.

Customer Service Begins with ‘How May I Serve You?’
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 that since he walked through the door of a welding supply store, he came to buy something.

A customer is a person just like you or me except they want something that they don’t have. It might be a striker or a cylinder of oxygen or a welder. If what they want is a striker, you probably have some out on display. By asking more questions, you can dig deeper and learn that they want a single flint striker, a three way, a shoot-a-lite, a cricket or even something else. By asking still more questions, you can learn even more, like which product is actually best for that particular customer.

For a striker, most of you will not put forth the effort to ask more questions to learn if there is a better product option for that customer (especially if they picked the striker from a display and placed it on the counter). STOP RIGHT THERE!

You need to find out what it is that the customer needs, not wants. Fortunately, the customer does not always know what he needs. That customer may even take what he wants instead of what he needs. Does that sound confusing to you?

I said “fortunately” because the mere fact that he doesn’t know what he needs is the reason for our existence. It is also fortunate because you now have an opportunity to provide that customer with service in such a way that the customer knows that you are working for him and trying to serve him. If you serve customers well, they will return because they know that you will work to do what is best for them. Even if you suggest that a three-way striker is better for the application they have and they buy the single striker, they will know that you were looking out for them. That is why they will be back.

When you have a customer who wishes to purchase a welding machine, things can get real interesting. Of course if your customer tells you he wants a particular machine, then the job is done.

WRONG!

The job is not done if you are really interested in providing that customer with customer service. What is the customer going to weld? How much time is the customer going to spend welding the current project? Will the customer want to weld something else later? What electrical power is available? What experience does the customer or his or her welders have? Is the correct process MIG or TIG or what? What other equipment or supplies does the customer need in order to complete the job? Are you the customer’s current supplier or if not, is this your chance to provide the customer with the information that is needed? How much does the customer want to spend? How much money is what the customer needs going to cost?

Still More Questions
I’m sure that you can come up with several more questions that need to be answered to fill in the blanks to properly serve the customer. Information about what your customer needs can fill a book. I hope you are taking notes as the two of you talk.

Here is another important question for you to ask: “How soon do you need this?” No matter what your customer says, get the information to your customer in the shortest amount of time possible. Make sure it is in writing and then ASK FOR THE ORDER. If you did your job, I think you deserve it.

By the way, one thing that I haven’t spent much time on is the price. If you asked enough questions, then price is not as important. Taking care of your customer will win you more orders than anything else. If price is the only thing that matters to that customer, then you are just one more supplier and the customer, in reality, isn’t a customer.

But My Customer Is Purchasing Gas
Here is another one for you. What if they want you to supply them with gas? You need a new set of questions, right? Not totally. Does the customer plan to weld? How much time will the customer spend welding a specific project? Will the customer want to weld something else later? What experience does the customer and his or her welders have? What other equipment or supplies does the customer need to do the job? What other reasons does the customer have to use gas? Is the customer going to purge something? Does the customer have a laser that you don’t know about? Are you the customer’s current supplier or if not, is this your chance to provide the customer with the needed information? How much does the customer want to spend? How much money is what the customer needs going to cost? Does the customer need cylinder gas, portable liquid cylinders, bulk or all three? What about a mixer to blend the gas? What are your customer’s space limitations? Is the customer’s shop plumbed or should it be? If using cylinder gas, will the customer need to move up to liquid someday? When?

What if the customer needs a welder and gas, do you stop there? Of course not. What wire is the customer going to use? You should already know the answer because of all the questions that already have been asked. The better question is what kind of wire? Is it spool, coil, barrel or reel? What about safety items and consumables for the customer and his or her welders? Is the customer’s shop hot? Is a cool vest appropriate?

You have just begun discovering what your customer needs. Have fun with it.

Thank You
What recognition do you give to that customer after his first purchase? 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.

The Check Is On Its Way
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?

Telephone Manners
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?
Forty-three 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. Whom 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 sixteen. I think he had something there.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Meet the Author
Guy Marlin is president of Lampton Welding Supply Company, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, and at www.lampton.com.