The Failing and Flailing of American Businesses

Have you gone to a favorite store or restaurant and left feeling disappointed?  Sadly, it seems that it happens all too often.  My wife and I find that our old favorites are simply becoming mediocre at best and sometimes a place we will never visit again.

This is most common with restaurants – or at least it feels like that is where I have noticed this the most.  The past weekend was no exception.  A large group went out to dinner at a popular family restaurant.  Nothing too fancy, but not exactly cheap either with most meals costing over $10.  We went to the first restaurant and found that there was an incredibly long wait for our group of eight (although there were a lot of empty tables).  The hostess called another of their locations nearby and they said no problem, we could get right in.  Everyone got back in their cars and drove to the next spot. 

When we got there, no one knew about the call ahead and we were given another long wait time.  When we asked about the reservations, the host could not manage anything other than a shake of his Justin-Bieber-wannabe hair and said “whatever.”  That didn’t go over too well and we ended up talking to the manager.  In the end, we got a table with broken legs that twisted and rocked like a ship in a hurricane, moved to another table where one of the seats had a mysterious black stain that had to be avoided.  The food was not as good as expected either, another disappointment in the evening. 

After we left, I thought about all the times recently where I have gone in a store or restaurant and have left less than satisfied.  It could be for a variety of reasons – rude or uncaring employees; out of the item I was looking for; prices were up; quality down and so on. 

In light of all the talk about the economy and how businesses are struggling, how is it that so many are allowing customers to walk away unhappy or at least with less than the best possible experience.  Now, more than ever, companies should be going all out to give their customers the best possible service and experience.

Of course, companies are struggling.  There is uncertainty and worry about the economy.  Prices for fuel and food are rising; salaries and incomes are not.  Business leaders need to maintain and attract customers, while battling rising costs at the same time.  Balancing these challenges can leave businesses straddling the fence and ultimately sacrificing quality, pricing or both, and more importantly sacrificing customers.

The good news is that there are ways to solve the dilemma.  Every business is different and some ideas may work better than others for your specific circumstances.

  1. Make (or keep) the emphasis on the customer.  Make them feel special.  Welcome them to your business and give them the attention that will keep them coming back.  Having employees who remember them is huge.  I once went to a McDonald’s and the clerk remembered me from the week before and how I had ordered my coffee.  A simple, small thing, but something out of the ordinary.  If you have employees that send the message, “whatever” to your customers, you are in trouble.  Fix it.
  2. Deliver value.  Yes, you have to be price competitive in most industries.  Consumers are worried about their own income and spending, but still want a value product.  Back to the restaurant examples – price may be important in picking where to go for dinner, but is not everything.  If it was or for those times that it is the most important, then most people will go to fast food or get the cheap pizza for $5.  If you run a sit-down restaurant, you will lose that battle so don’t try to win it.  Instead, make sure that you give customers the overall value they are looking for.  Value is the right mix of quality and price.  Sacrificing quality to save a few pennies may be the wrong approach – cheap can get you through the short-term, but may fail in keeping customers in the long haul.  Focus instead on the value that your customers want.
  3. Focus on building long-term relationships.  Develop trust by meeting and exceeding your consumers’ expectations.  That will create loyalty and in turn, repeat customers plus referrals.  In his book, “If Disney Ran Your Hospital” author Fred Lee talks about customer satisfaction surveys and scores.  He notes that on a scale of 1-5, most organizations consider a 3 or above satisfactory.  However, he points out that only a score of 5 will translate into consumer loyalty, an idea that has worked well for Disney over the years.
  4. Have a clear strategy.  You must understand what makes your customers tick.  What are their price points?  What drives their buying decisions?  It may be price, it may be service, location or better options.  Depending on your type of business, you have to understand your customer and develop a plan that meets their needs, not just yours. 

Following these guidelines will help your organization survive and thrive, building the foundation for long-term success.  If you can exceed your customers’ expectations in a down economy, then you have the key to true victory as things improve.

For more on customer service read “The Five Steps to Great Customer Service.”

Have you wondered how to deal with an aggressive employee or phone threats against a staff member?  Do you have the security system you should?  Are you worried about how your business would handle an emergency situation?  There are lots of worries as a leader in your organization.  Security risks do not have to be one of them. 

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