Are You Listening?

With the economy motoring along in good shape, running a business in 2005 is a busy full-time job. Our days are usually full and overflowing with little time to stop and evaluate every thing that's going on.

During the many business seminars I have conducted through the years to both distributor and manufacturing companies, I have emphasized a skill often overlooked by many managers and owners-listening.

Are you taking the time to communicate with your customers? Do you ask a few key questions about the actual performance of the product you rented or sold and the service they received from your firm after the sale? Are you really listening to what they have to say? Just as important, are you training your employees to do the same?

I'd like to relate a recent personal experience where a business owner "completely missed the boat" regarding this very important sales aid.

Recently my wife wanted to expand the landscape area around our home, so I called several firms listed in the phone book for a quotation. I did not hear back from one company for four days. So, I called them a second time and was told by the person answering the phone, "We're very busy."

I asked to speak to the owner and mentioned to him that at least a return courtesy call would have been appreciated. I explained that I was a prospective customer, and that customers pay his employees' salaries. His reply-"Look, mister, I pay my employees' salaries, not you,"-caused me to hang up and call another landscaper. I received the quotation needed from another company listed in the phone book.

Did the first guy listen to me? No. Did he or his employees apologize for not at least calling me back indicating when his firm might supply the quotation? No. Did he have a clue what I meant when I mentioned who actually pays his employees' salaries? No. Needless to say, when the overall economy slows down sometime in the future, this company is in big, big trouble.

At a CRA show and convention some years ago, a valued Pro Cut dealer stopped in the booth and gave a large order to one of our representatives. I recognized this gentleman from across the booth, and hurried over to shake his hand and thank him before he left.

As he was leaving, I asked him the magic question, "What can Pro Cut do to improve our product or service to your company?"

His reply surprised me. "Paul," he said. "You're the first manufacturer to ask me that question in many years. I do have a suggestion that would assist my counter people in recommending the right diamond blade to our customers." He went on to describe a new, different, easy-to-use job application chart-which Pro Cut eventually did supply its nationwide dealer network.

Always remember, your customer is out there on the firing line every day. He knows what's happening in the marketplace. What better source of up-to-date information can a company have then its own customers? Most hesitate to offer suggestions or criticisms, so it's up to us-owners, managers and employees working for both the dealer and manufacturer-to constantly communicate with our customers and listen. Really listen, and reap the benefits that follow.