The Honeymoon Should Never Be Over

We had a contract for our photocopier at the office that was renewed every three years, and the relationship had lasted for about fifteen years. Things were always okay, until the machine broke down a while ago. This is not usually a problem, because one telephone call is all it takes to get a technician to visit us within four hours. I don’t know whether this was in the contract or not, but it was always the usual response, and I loved it.

This time they said: “The technician may come through tomorrow, but possibly on the day after.” I was flabbergasted – more so because I had a seminar the next day that needed 35 bound handouts. Who had unilaterally changed the rules? Because I know it was certainly not me! And nobody from their business had ever called to let me know that their policy had changed.

When I challenged the manager, he indifferently told me that, because of the recession, the company had cut back, and there were now fewer technicians covering more customers. I know that this sounds cruel, but that’s not my problem. There is only one machine in our office, and there is no plan B when we’re making copies for our next course tomorrow morning.

It just so happened that there was still another year to go on that contract, and I had been approached by a young lady from one of their competitors. Every two months she’d give me a polite call, and said she just wanted to pop in for a quick cup of tea. She never nagged, but was persistent, so eventually I gave her a chance to come through and visit. (All ladies reading this, please forgive me for what I am going to say next.) When she arrived, she was really young and pretty, and subtly stroked my ego by telling me what a good choice I’d made with the original purchase from her rival.

Then she asked me how I liked this feature and that feature, and I embarrassedly told her that we primarily used it for making copies, mostly black and white and sometimes colour. She said that we were paying for a whole lot of features and we should really learn how to use them because it would make life a lot easier. At this stage, I asked her if she’d ever seen the thick manual that comes with such machines – and she saw the gap.

“Well I’ll tell you what,” she said, “If you do a deal with me when your contract is up, I’ll personally come here and train all of you. And not only that, but I will write a guaranteed response rate of 4 hours into the contract and you can penalise us if it doesn’t happen.”

That clinched it. I’d like to think that her youth, beauty and flirtation had nothing to do with it, but within a few months the smug guys from the initial company came back completely confident that our meeting would be a formality. I will remember the shocked look on the sales guy and his manager for a long time, and there was no way they could charm their way out of this one, They had quite obviously – glaringly – dropped the ball, and now they wanted me to save them.

As soon as the old copier company fetched their machine, I moved to the new company with the guaranteed a response time in the contract, and whose sales representative specially came to our offices to train all of us how to use our new machine. Sandy still calls me every month now to check if everything is okay, and bought us some biltong and fruit to celebrate the end of our first three-year contract. This time the signing was just a formality, but there was no complacency on her part.

Coincidentally, we have also been doing business with a printer for business cards and brochures on a somewhat regular basis for several years. I remember the first day their sales person called on us. He brought us nice samples, followed up throughout the process and personally delivered our orders. This continued for the next several times we placed orders.

Then one day the sales person couldn’t come out and they asked us to come to them to pick up our delivery. We thought nothing of it, went and visited their shop, and fetched our printing order. Then, next time, the order was delivered and there was an extra charge for the delivery service, (the first time we had been charged for this.)

I was frustrated, and told them not to expect us to come in and not to charge us for the delivery – at least as a line item on the final invoice. We had come to expect a certain level of service, and, like a jilted spouse, we felt betrayed after they had the expectation based on the first several times we worked together. Then something changed. So, what happened?

A simple answer might be in an old cliché: The honeymoon was over.

They did what they could to get our business. The expectation they created was not anything unusual. In fact, we thought this was the norm. The relationship is now in jeopardy, and it is a shame. They are nice people, and their prices, while not always the lowest have been competitive. They have sometimes been able to do some special projects that other printers couldn’t or didn’t want to do. But they originally provided a level of service that we had been used to, and therefore expected, and now it seems like it’s an inconvenience for them.

Business is kind of like dating, and then getting married. The first time you do business with someone is like a date. They “romance the customer,” and hope you will want to go out – or do business with them – again. Eventually, they ask you to close the deal and get married, and you go on the honeymoon. This is not the end: it’s really the start of the long-term relationship. It means they can’t say to the customer, “Okay, I’m now going to hand you over to my ugly little brother in the Orders Department.” They also can’t tell you that, since they are experiencing some problems, they will pay less attention and you had better just understand. In a real marriage we sit down and talk, and negotiate what will happen.

In fact, right now is a fantastic time to increase your service and improve your customers’ experiences. This is a wonderful time to look good compared to your competitors, to do something special for your customers, and to bring a smile to their faces. All around you, your rivals are probably coming up with dumb strategies to cut their costs and upset their customers. As Jeanne Bliss wrote: “Now is the time to seek out the intangible opportunities to soothe the savaged customer soul”
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In a world of turmoil, you can be the oasis in their desert of despair! Your customers’ memories of your kindness & helpfulness will extend well beyond the end of this uncertain economy.


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