We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us

When it comes to dealing with customer and employee problems, the famous quote by the comic strip character, Pogo, said it all. There's an interesting conversation I’ve been following on The Service Roundtable (www.serviceroundtable.com) that addresses how business owners deal with customer and employee issues. Many of the participants were taking somewhat of an adversarial tone, creating what appeared to be an "us or them" approach to problem solving.

This gave me pause, especially in this day and age, where consumers are worried, and are being much more frugal with their discretionary dollars. Isn't this the time to be focused more on customer service than ever? Doesn't it help to build relationships in tough times that will carry you through, and help your business grow, despite the economy?

One of the issues had to do with employees who don't understand the business part of HVAC contracting and who take issue with their employer's pricing practices. In the online conversations, one contractor said that service technicians and installers shouldn't be concerned, "about why the amount being charged is the amount being charged."

He goes on to say that "Everybody has a position to play, just like in baseball, but an outfielder is not expected to know why his pitcher threw a curve ball, just that the catcher called a pitch, and the pitcher decided to throw that pitch or another. Point is, just because you are ON a team, doesn't mean you have to know what or why everything else exists. That person should play their position and only worry about being the best they can be at their position."

Now don't get me wrong, there's some truth in this viewpoint. However, if a technician questions a price, what's wrong with explaining or even training them about how your company sets prices and why? Then the tech can feel confident when they charge the customer that price.

One of the commentators in this discussion is my friend, Frank Besednjak, president & CEO of Training Source, Inc. He wrote, "I find it very troubling when a businessman in any business discusses customer or employee problems, as if they were the enemy or a necessary problem in business. I always considered an employee as part of my team, or family, and if they had a concern or problem I took it seriously, especially when it comes to my or the company's integrity."

He goes on to say that treating customers as if they're partners or team members goes a long way to building a following.

Besednjak says, "When it comes to building a loyal customer base, treat a client as a family member who happens to be paying you for a service. How would you feel if you (as a customer) made a substantial investment, to only find out later that you were overcharged by someone you totally trusted, versus receiving a refund due to an overcharge? Would you recommend them? I have no problem charging a premium for premium service. I believe most contractors still need to raise prices, but it has to be fair and equal across the board."

New York contractor Steve Scott summed it up nicely. He said, "We charge a LOT of money, of which an employee sees very little. It's very important to me that they understand why we charge what we do, so they don't go in to a job feeling like we're over charging our clients."

Jeremy Lowe of Callahan Roach Business Solutions concurred. He said that "Quality organizations, where employees are treated as valuable internal customers have higher gross profits and much greater satisfied external customers."

So take a step back and analyze how you treat people and manage your customer experiences while maintaining 100% total integrity.

Comic strip author Walt Kelly was targeting his 'we are our own worst enemy' commentary toward the American environmental movement of the 1970s. It applies to many different things even today. Let's work together to educate each other and our employees on why we do what we do so that the HVAC industry doesn't become it's own worst enemy.

As Frank Besednjak said (quoting his father), "It's easier to do the right thing every time than to stress about your decision later."

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