August 2002
How to create customer focus
It takes more than sales reps to make customers
comfortable with your firm
While a sales rep is paid to sell, isn’t it realistic to think that everyone in an organization should have a customer focus too? How often have we heard that the sales force isn’t bringing in enough work to keep people and equipment busy. After all, this is the group that makes the big bucks and we have plants running at about 60% capacity. Why is this happening?

The reality is that everyone in an organization is responsible for creating the right environment for customers. I have often said that the person who answers the phone can create an extremely positive or negative image for a company in the first 15 or 20 seconds. We have all experienced the upbeat, friendly voice of a receptionist who sounds genuinely pleased to help you or to direct your call to the intended party. How pleasant.
We have also all experienced those receptionists at the other end of the helpful scale. I remember one instance that almost drove me crazy. We had decided to investigate doing our own colour work and were exploring the options for getting the necessary equipment. I had just heard that some very fine Crossfield equipment had been traded in and that this configuration would be virtually perfect for us.

The organization that had taken the equipment in on a trade was in Boston. I called the company and was soon greeted by this less-than-friendly voice asking who was calling. (I must admit that any sales-based operation that instructs its receptionist to begin with this question is almost immediately in my black book.) However, I gave the required information and then there was this pause. I waited, and after about 20 seconds the receptionist returned to the line and asked what company I was with. Now, this was not what I had expected, but again I gave her the complete name of the company, Arthurs-Jones Lithographing Ltd.
Everyone in an organization must understand the necessity of being customer focused
Naturally there was another pause. Well guess what? When the receptionist did come back, she wanted to know what the call concerned. That did it for me. Here was a graphic equipment sales organization with a potential customer on the line and all it did was make me frustrated as hell and create needless barriers to doing business. Before I ended this ridiculous session I told her as politely as possible that we would never consider buying equipment from her organization because it was just too difficult.

This is a ridiculous but true story that I hope few of you have experienced. Needless to say, if any part of this story sounds the least bit like what your organization does, stop it now.

How to treat customers
Let’s consider how we should treat customers or, for that matter, any visitor who comes to our plants.
Regardless of your position in the company, make yourself known to all visitors in your reception area and ask if you can assist them in any way.

Make certain that visitors are introduced to a number of your associates, especially the ones doing his work.
It is also important that the most junior sales rep be treated as an important member of the team so that when he brings in a prospective customer, the sales manager, the vice president of sales and, if possible, the president are there to assure the new client that his work is important. (It is understood that this helpful and resourceful attitude should be extended by everyone throughout the plant.)
If your organization uses a courier service, try to bring these operations in-house. Customers gain confidence in a company when they see the same friendly face delivering or picking up packages. It simply increases their confidence level when the delivery person can call the customer by name and give his personal assurance that the material will be back at the plant in an hour. This, of course, is in contrast to handing a package to a delivery service and wondering if it will ever get to its destination.

Make certain everyone understands that it is the customer, and not the organization that processes your paycheque, who pays the bills. So, if something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t. Similarly, if instructions from the customer are the least bit vague, make certain that you ask and understand what is expected. Many things become obvious after the fact, but by this time the damage is done.

Business today is more demanding than any other time in recent memory. However, it is better and more profitable to surpass the needs of your established accounts than to lose them and try to find new accounts. Everyone in an organization must understand the necessity of being customer-focused and must be encouraged to remove all the barriers and red tape that might hinder this process. It takes everyone in a company to create the right environment for customers to give their work to your organization.
Duncan McGregor was president of the former Arthurs-Jones Inc., a Toronto-based, award-winning commercial printer. He led the $5 million-a-year firm to a five-fold increase in sales. He is now a consultant to the printing industry and can be reached at (416) 487-7666.
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