As the writer, inventor, diplomat and politician Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In my case, that “ounce” definitely turned out to be a “pound”, due to the insistence of two of my childhood friends, Michalis and Christos Potamitis, that I undergo a routine colonoscopy and gastroscopy.
I eventually listened to them and I’m glad I did. The outcome of this particular check-up, which was performed yesterday in Nicosia, was a “descending colon polyp”, which was immediately removed and sent for biopsy. It was, in the words of the doctor, “Something inconspicuous that might have turned out to be a disaster five years down the line.”
The wisdom of prevention is not limited to the health of individuals. Having worked extensively in a dozen different European countries as well as in the Middle East, I have come to understand that companies, too, can have the exact same fate as individuals. Something ‘inconspicuous’ (e.g. behaving in a totally indifferent way to a customer or forgetting to revert to a client as promised) can lead to ‘disaster’ (bankruptcy) sometime down the line.
3 Ways in which companies can act preventively:
So how can companies undergo a routine checkup so as to avert potential disaster? There are myriad ways of doing so but for the purposes of this month’s newsletter, allow me to mention just three:
- To prevent problems, offer preventive maintenance:
When I was working for the family business, Virardi Enterprises, we used to preach a lot about preventive maintenance, especially to the few companies or forward thinking – and looking – Technical Managers that understood the wisdom of acting (and paying) in the present in order to insure themselves against future problems and, at the same time, to maximize the value of the equipment they had invested in. At the same time, we, the company offering preventive maintenance, also reaped great rewards.
You can too. If the maintenance contracts are signed at the beginning of the year, it means cash up front, interacting with customers before the competition does (probably they won’t start a new relationship with your competitor if they are happy with you) and obtaining valuable feedback about your service. Preventive service may mean that customers pay a little extra but, when you give them the best possible service, they will easily be persuaded that they are getting even greater value. It’s a win-win situation.
- Mystery call your own company:
Mystery calling is another preventive mechanism. The best way to go about it – and I would urge you to try it – is simply to pick up the phone and call your own company. Experience first-hand how many times the phone has to ring before someone picks it up (hopefully it will not be an extreme case like a certain bookstore chain that never answers the phone, making me wonder why it bothers to have a number!) When your call is answered, see how efficient and friendly the reply is. Does the receptionist answer by name, ask for yours and proceed to use it? Then note how smooth the transition from one department to another is. When you are transferred, has the person who first answered the phone coordinated with the one you are about to speak to so that you are again addressed by name? Only when you step into the shoes of a customer can you truly understand how good your own company’s service is. If you are not totally satisfied with every aspect of the experience, you can act quickly to correct and improve it.
During the first three months of 2017, I’ve already had the pleasure of delivering four customer service/customer care workshops. One part of these workshops was all about ‘mystery calling’ and presenting the findings to the class. Among the parameters by which companies were evaluated were ‘politeness’, ‘friendliness’, ‘rapport building’ and ‘effectiveness’ (If you want to know more about these parameters, visit http://michaelvirardi.com/caring-and-creative-customer-service/)
- Educate your customers:
In my seminars, I often make a point of praising companies that have achieved excellence in some way and analyzing what makes them special. Last year, when I addressed the management and staff at Bayer CropScience in Athens, I drew their attention to a number of Greek companies that shine like beacons of hope in a country so beset by problems. One such company is Hellas Direct.
One of the keys to preventing problems is customer education but the challenge is that very few people read. I routinely ask my audiences how many of them have bothered to read their home insurance policy, their car’s user manual or the Terms & Conditions when buying online. Only a few hands go up. The solution is to think and act in a preventive manner. First, you can educate people on the issues at interest/concern them the most in an easy way, as Hellas Direct does through recorded video replies to the most frequently asked customer questions on its website (www.hellasdirect.gr/en/static/sc025). Visit it and see for yourself. And second, like Hellas Direct, you can differentiate yourself from the competition by offering a bilingual website (Greek and English) as well as a speedy service, which means completing a transaction (in this case, issuing an insurance policy) in less than 5 minutes.
The above examples are just three of many ways in which preventive action can lead to greater efficiency, an enhanced reputation, more loyal customers and a healthy bottom line. It can also lead to peace of mind for those on both sides of every transaction, especially the customer who feels that in addition to a product or service, you have offered an insurance policy with it.
As I await good news from my doctor (with fingers crossed), I know that, whatever the result, taking preventive action is always better than trying to deal with a situation when it might be too late. Benjamin Franklin definitely knew what he was talking about!