DJ Harrington and Dan Messina

By Dan Messina

Over the years, the customer has gotten smarter and smarter. They are better educated at all things in life, including service. Today’s customer has experienced it and they like it. You can no longer ask them to choose between lower price or better service; they want both. Offering a good service can present several problems, but it also creates opportunities.

As an owner, we have a tendency to promise too much and then we don’t deliver. By underachieving, we make the customer mad, and rightfully so. It’s our fault because we raised their expectations too high and then they become unhappy when we don’t deliver. We want to learn to set expectations high, but make them realistic so we can deliver.


Not only does the customer want good service, they also want it faster and easier. Most of our competition has the working capital to run their business, they offer the same types of service as you, and they buy technical products right off the shelf to support their business. Our only competitive source we have that’s different is our people and the service they provide. It’s no longer good enough to hire good smart people; you must now look for people with great attitudes, personalities, and have the “I love to work here” frame of mind. These people are out there or you can create them, and, when you do, work becomes a whole lot more fun.

When I sold my company, I had 36 employees and no one ever quit. I created a working environment that was fun for my employees and me. When you have this environment:

  1. Your employees are happy.
  2. Your employees are more productive.
  3. They have fewer damages that cost you money.
  4. Your customer is happy.
  5. Every employee becomes a sales person that grows your business.
  6. It made me happy and increased profits.

How can you create this environment? Several years ago, a study was done in Texas where they took 100 successful businesses and compared them to see what they had in common. Some were well educated, where others barely made it through high school. Some had a lot of money to start and others had to borrow, but they all had one thing in common; they had spent a lot of time with someone that was very successful. They had a mentor they could learn from. When you are in business, you cannot afford to stop learning. To be competitive, you must continue your education and stay on top of changes in your industry.

Here are a few things I learned that help make me successful:


Ask the customer what they want and give it to them again and again.

When you create rules like answering the phone by the second ring or giving response time of less than 30 minutes, you assume you know what the customer wants.  The only way to find out what the customer wants is to ask them. Create a questionnaire that allows the customer to give you information like, was my price too high, too low, or am I competitive with others?  Was my response to your call acceptable? If you provide what the customer wants, you get fewer complaints.

Customers expect you to keep your word.

When you are a small business, your word is your company. Once you establish trust with your customers, you will have them forever.  I did not offer the cheapest service, but my customers loved me because they could believe whatever I told them.  I always underestimated and overachieved when the customer made a request. This made me look good to my customer. No matter what business you are in, it doesn’t matter what your price structure is; it’s all about service. Can you deliver what you are selling faster, easier, and more convenient than your competitor?

When the customer asks, the answer is always yes.

In order to be successful, it’s not always about money. After all, your price might be higher, so it becomes a service issue. Offer convenience. If the customer asks if you can do something, the answer is always yes. I would tell my sales staff if the customer wants a green suit, sell him a green suit, even though we only had blue suits. You will figure out how to make it work. When a customer asks you to do something not totally related to the business, your competition will say no because it’s a distraction to his business, but remember your business is taking care of a customer. Do the extra and don’t charge if you can help it. That’s how to keep customers.

Every employee that deals with the customer must have the authority to address complaints.

Customer service should be a function of every employee in your company. Every employee that talks to a customer should have the authority to handle a complaint. If a customer calls with a complaint, they don’t want to hear the answer that you have to talk to a manager. The customer calls and talks to that person every day, and the customer would love for that person to handle the complaint right away. Remember that the only competitive source you have over your competitor is your people, so let them work. The businesses that can save time for the customer will be the ones to succeed.

Treat your employees like your partners.

In order to get good people and keep them, you must pay them. You should want to pay them more than they could make somewhere else. You want people to take pride in their work, and a bigger pay check helps. Get in the habit of asking them how you can help them make more money. Good people make fewer mistakes and tend to be more productive and resourceful.  Your staff is your customer service.

Knowledge is power so measure everything.

It always amazes me how many people run their business day to day without knowing the details of their business. I knew who my best employees were because I measured everything they did.  I also knew who my worst employees were. This allowed me to set up training programs for them. I knew who my best customers were so I could take of them better. I also knew who my worst customers were so I did not spend as much money on them. I also knew the cost for every function and service I provided. This allowed me to change services when necessary. Let your employees do the work so you can monitor the results. When you know what your company is doing, you will be more successful.

Show people respect and be polite; it works.

This starts with you showing respect and being nice to your employees. When you do this to your employees, they pass it on to the customers. When a driver picks up a car, have them thank the customer for their business. When a person comes pay the bill, have your employee hand them a piece of chocolate candy. Candy creates a pleasant feeling just like when a hotel leaves a piece of chocolate on your pillow. When people notice the little things you do, they will be repeat customers. Remember, good employees give you a competitive advantage.

Find a good mentor, follow what they did, and improve on it when possible.

As I pointed out earlier, most successful people have a mentor that they could learn from. I did not have a mentor, but I joined a group of small business owners that met once a month and shared ideas and listened to each other’s problems. I paid $500 a month for this service, but, at the time, I felt it was worth it. This is why “” was created. This allows you to learn and share ideas, but, more importantly, have someone you can share your problems with, someone who has gone through the same things you face today. If we don’t have the answer, we can call on other members for help. It’s all about helping each other. Our objective as a company is to make everyone that is a member of “” successful.

Owning your own business can bring many problems and a lot of stress, but if you do it right, it can also be fun and rewarding. Keep in mind that your success depends on happy customers, and that begins with good customer service.

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