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Creating a Customer-Service Business

(June 2006) posted on Mon Jul 17, 2006

Learn how borrowing some customer-service philosophies from Starbucks can set your shop apart from the competition.

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By Gordon Roberts

I recently took a business trip to Europe, and while I was there, I couldn't resist the almost unbelievable deals offered by some of the low-cost airlines. It turned out that I could fly from Germany to England to visit with my folks for the incredible price of $30! The deal made the trip affordable and would allow me to enjoy some much-needed rest and recuperation with my extended family.

I had been attending a trade show in Frankfurt and was impressed by the convenience of the airport and the availability and ease of using public transportation in Germany. I was looking forward to a quick, trouble-free commute to England. It turns out that I should have taken the time to read the small print.

I soon discovered that my cut-price deal did not include flying from the wonderful, modern Frankfurt Airport. The flight actually left from another airport more than an hour and a half away. The airport was an old, converted US Air Force base filled with surly airline employees and enormous check-in lines. I had been warned to arrive at least two hours before takeoff, and almost all of that time was spent standing in one queue after another, waiting for a rude check-in clerk to scrutinize a piece of paper and send me scurrying off to the next line. The passengers were packed into the plane like sardines, ignored for an hour or so as we flew, and then released into the airport with little or no information about where to locate our baggage.

I came to the realization somewhere over the French coast that I would never do this again. The other airlines certainly cost more, but they make up for it in convenience and customer service, not to mention the in-flight beverages and the oh-so-necessary peanuts.

Customer service long gone

Lately I have noticed a disturbing trend among many of the smaller businesses in our industry. It seems that in a lot of cases we are engaged in a manic rush to be the cheapest suppliers on the block, to always offer the lowest price, and to undercut our competition at any cost. To do this, our businesses are operating on a knife-edge, balancing cash flow against profit and workers against overhead to land work. This approach turns the leanest of margins into the leanest of profits.


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