I recently dropped my son off at college and had the opportunity to sit in on his “Orientation to Business School” presentation. I was impressed because they not only talked about business but business ethics. They seemed concerned about the lack of integrity in today’s business world and made a point to show that the “bottom line” is only a small part of the complete package.
I was so impressed because the people giving the talk were high-powered former CEOs who now make it their mission to convey to students that business in America has lost its way and needs to get back on track. They said that today’s businesses are more concerned with spreadsheets than with ethics and doing things the right way with honest business plans.
Their talk made me reflect on, as a consumer, the businesses I’m most comfortable with that I trust are going to be fair and honest with me. I then made a list of the businesses I like and the ones I don’t. I won’t name names, but I’ll tell you what services they offer and you can fill in the blanks. Some I really like, some I hate, and some I once loved but now I hate.
Have you ever been in a restaurant where the manager walks up to you while you’re enjoying your meal and asks you, “How is everything?” First of all, he or she should already know how everything is because that’s his or her job. Second, if the food is just so-so, you always answer, “Just fine.” This really irritates me, because even if the food is really bad, you may not tell him or her. What he or she should be saying is, “It has been a pleasure serving you. Can I get you anything else? Please come back.”
The food and service should be good if they’re in the business of selling food. More often than not, however, this is not the case, and the managers are doing damage control when they should be creating a process that produces a good food product with excellent service. They’re managing the money and not the food. In their case, it’s all about the bottom line!
Real or Fake?
Just look at Twinkies. When I was a kid, a Twinkie was a real piece of cake with real cream. Now, who knows what it is? This is because at some point, Hostess started working for the bottom line. It probably started with some bean counter deciding that if they changed the recipe, it would extend the product’s shelf life. He really didn’t care about why they made pastries in the first place or their reputation, only about the bottom line.
Business needs to be about both the product we sell and the bottom line. Who knows if the Twinkie would have survived if they would have raised the price and kept the recipe the same? I know I haven’t bought one in years. I even remember when their cherry pies had real cherries in them, and don’t even mention their Snow Balls. What they sell now only resembles the products that made them who they are, all because some bean counter decided that the bottom line was more important than their original products.
Addressing Customer Expectations and Fears
To get our business priorities fully in order, we need to think like the customer and outline what their expectations and fears are. Ask yourself:
1. What do they want from our services?
With these five things in mind, you can now determine what you as a business owner need to do to ensure the best customer experience:
1. Deliver consistent quality.
What should our priorities be, and why is success only defined about how much money a business makes? When did the product become
I’ve met many body shop owners and toured many shops over the years, and what disturbs me is that it seems the measuring stick for success within the collision industry has little to do with the repair process and more about the bottom line. A high-grossing, under-trained shop that’s ruining cars can still be considered successful, and this just shouldn’t be the case.
What’s the consumer looking for? And what’s an ethical business practice? I think first and foremost it’s honesty, and this is also honesty with the repairs you sell. Why advertise that you can do something when you really can’t? Don’t just say anything to get a customer in the door when you know that you’ll never be able to deliver what you promised.
Gas and Groceries
I always try to put myself in my customers’ shoes, and so when I’m a customer, I really try to pay attention to how I’m treated throughout the entire process. I make mental notes of the things I like and dislike.
First, let’s look at fast food. Why do we like fast food? We all know we shouldn’t eat it, so why do we eat it? Because we like it? No, because we know exactly what we’re getting every time. It’s consistent and a good value for the money. Basically, we can get the same cheap burger anywhere in the world, and we know exactly what to expect. Fast food restaurants are honest and give us what we pay for. But these restaurants run into problems when they try to compete with gourmet food and fail miserably. They need to stick with what they know.
Next, let’s look at grocery stores. I think grocery stores do a great job with customer service and giving us good value for our money. Plus, they’re convenient and consistent. Because of these things, I’ve never had an issue with the climbing cost of groceries. They always try to give me as much for my dollar as possible, and I’m glad they’re competing for my business. Not much has changed with the way we buy groceries in the last 30 years we still know what to expect before we walk in the door.
Regarding gas stations, while I don’t like the price of gas, I like how easy it is to get and the product is all basically the same. But I don’t like it when I pull up to the pump and have to walk inside. Everything changes at that point. I just want to swipe and go, but sometimes their computer is down or they only take ATM cards. So to me, gas stations are really selling convenience, not gas.
I like going to the hardware store. The service isn’t always the best, but I don’t expect it to be. But I can usually find what I need, and that’s why I like doing business with them. They have such an enormous inventory to track, and it amazes me that they can sell me some stupid little overpriced fitting and I’m so happy to get it.
There are many more businesses that I like, but the point is, why do I like doing business with them?
1. They’re consistent.
2. They offer good service.
3. I’m getting a good value for my dollar.
4. They’re honest.
5. They have what I need.
Now, let’s talk about those businesses I don’t like patronizing like airlines. While I like some better than others, things have changed in air travel. Airlines don’t offer what they used to. They’re not consistent, service is no longer what it used to be and there’s no longer any value, especially if you change anything. When you change your travel plans, the green light goes on and it’s rip-off city. In sum, the airlines have changed to a bottom-line mentality. I’m not in control anymore; rather, I’m at their mercy.
I don’t like the electric company, either, because the more money I spend with them, the more they charge and penalize me. The discounts should go to the ones who are purchasing more. Again, bad value for the money and no control.
My medical insurance is complicated at best. I can never figure out why, in the end, I always pay more than my 20 percent and my deductible with my PPO. I’m always reaching into my pocket. It seems dishonest and misleading, and I can only imagine this getting worse now that the government is involved. Again, poor customer service, confusing billing and the feeling that I’m being ripped off.
I also dislike doing business with the cell phone store. They have great customer service on the front end when they’re trying to sell you something, but on the back end they really aren’t prepared to accommodate you if you have a problem. You’re usually told to mail your phone off or wait for a new one. There is an illusion of service, but only about the sales. So even though I may be getting a good value for my money and good customer service going in, I feel I’m getting ripped off because no one really cares if I have a problem.
Looking at the businesses I dislike, you find these common denominators:
1. Lack of customer service.
2. Poor product quality.
3. Feeling of being ripped off (no honesty).
4. They take advantage of the fact that I need them.
5. They don’t value me as a customer.
Beyond the Bottom Line
A successful business goes beyond the bottom line. You must come up with a certain business mentality that can’t be breached. You’ll find that if you deliver a good, honest repair (your product) to your customer and combine this with business ethics based on integrity over the bottom line, you’ll prosper. Your customers will remain loyal to you because you’ve given them honesty and peace of mind in a difficult time when they were expecting the opposite.
Writer Lee Amaradio Jr. is the president and founder of Faith Quality Auto Body Inc. in Murrieta, Calif. His 32,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility employs 65 full-time employees and does $7 million in gross sales. In business since 1979, Lee attributes his success to having a great team of quality people supporting him. Lee says that he “sees the handwriting on the wall” and believes that “now is the time for us to reclaim our industry, before it’s too late.” He can be reached at [email protected].