commodity

A Valuable Commodity: Spend Less, Save More, and Win Customers Over

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There is a commodity that you can’t see or touch, but it is very valuable. Everyone gets the same amount of it each day and can spend it as they choose. What is it? Time. Customers value their time, and if you can find a way to respect that – in effect, using less of it so they have more to spend in other ways – they will appreciate you and most likely reward you with repeat business.

How can you respect your customers’ time? First, let’s look at some ways that companies fail to respect their customers’ time. Obvious ways would be making customers wait in long lines, putting customers on hold, or making them wait for a response when they reach out to you, for whatever reason, good or bad. I don’t know very many people who enjoy waiting for anything. It’s not that everyone is impatient. It’s just frustrating.

Recently I was forced to stay in a hotel because my flight was canceled due to bad weather. When I showed up at the hotel, I couldn’t believe how long the line was to check in. Their excuse was that they didn’t expect to be so busy, but when I spoke with the reservations person earlier that day, the hotel was just about sold out of rooms. How could they not have known? I blame a manager for making a bad staffing decision. That moment eroded the hotel’s guest-focused brand and image that they worked so hard to create through advertising and marketing.

I’d bet that you have at one time or another called a company for support and heard the recording that goes something like this: “We’re sorry. Your call is very important to us. Due to an unexpected call volume, you may experience longer than normal wait times.” I hate it when this happens. And, if my call was truly important to you, you would answer it sooner than later. Another related waste of time is transferring callers to various representatives and making them repeat their information multiple times.

Some customers dread calling customer support. Their past experience of long wait times means they have to block out time to call – maybe on their lunch break or after the kids get on the school bus. They hope to be able to connect to the right person and have their problem solved or question answered quickly, but they can’t count on it.

With the technology available today, there is no longer an excuse for this type of experience. Today customers are told how long their wait will be and are given an option to wait or have a representative call back at a more convenient time.

What customers want is an experience that is fast, easy and convenient, and this goes beyond the support center. One company that has it figured out is Amazon. You can find almost anything you want on their website, and once you do, you can check out with “One Click.” Its Amazon Prime Membership, for which customers pay a fee, offers free two-day shipping on most purchases. It’s all about speed and convenience. Customers love it, and they are willing to pay for it.

I learned a lesson at a young age about respecting customers’ time.

I was 12 years old when I started my first business, a magic show birthday party business. The business grew as parents recommended me to their friends, and before I knew it, I was being hired to perform as many as 10 magic shows every week.

Sometimes I was doing as many as four birthday party magic shows in a day. I figured out how to set up a show quickly – within just a few minutes. Spending more time meant that I might not be able to do as many shows. So, I learned that time is money! I determined that being on time meant that I had to show up five minutes early to be set up and ready to perform.

Now, I was a very young entrepreneur, so my parents would give me suggestions and advice to ensure my success in my venture. Without even knowing it, they were teaching me some of the basics of good customer service. My dad had some thoughts on my tightly booked scheduling system. He said, “Let’s say your show is supposed to start at one o’clock. At what point do you think the parents are going to start looking at their watches and wondering what time the magician is going to show up?”

Even at 12 years old, I knew where he was going with the question. He made me realize that five minutes early wasn’t early enough. We discussed it and I willingly agreed that if I didn’t arrive at least 15 minutes early, I would be late. So, I made it my practice to be at least 20 minutes early.

Ultimately, even though I might have missed out on a few bookings, I ensured my customers’ confidence by respecting their time, making it more likely that I would get their referrals that turned into more business in the long term.

Depending on your business, respecting the customer’s time could mean different things.

Customers today look for self-service options, which is more than just dedicated checkout lines at a grocery store, although that’s part of it. Self-service can also mean having easy-to-find answers on your website or instructional videos on YouTube about how to assemble or get the most out of your products.

Another way to show customers that you understand the value of their time is to offer easy access. This could mean extended hours and/or convenient locations. Being open on weekends or in the evenings – maybe even just an hour later than the competition – could draw customers to you, giving you the opportunity to deliver a good customer experience and keep them coming back. And remember, Amazon and other websites are open 24/7. If you’re not already doing it, maybe an online ordering option would work for your business.

Remember my story above about the long check-in line at the hotel? Proper staffing is yet another way to respect the customer’s time. Companies may think they will save money by having fewer employees, but if you have too few, it will lead to unhappy customers who will eventually stop coming back, and worse, tell others about their bad experience. Understaffing leads to longer hold times at the support center, long lines in-store, product or delivery delays, and stressed-out employees who may have difficulty delivering good customer service.

Remember, we all have the same amount of time to “spend.” Don’t price yourself out of the market – or even out of business altogether – by asking for too much of the customer’s allotment of time. By being quick, convenient and easy to do business with, you show your customer that you respect them and their time.