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I was reminded last week of an experience I had in 2009. By request, I had gone to Orlando, Florida to give a safety talk at a conference. On the drive back, at 5 o'clock in the morning on the Florida Turnpike, I stopped for gas. As I got out of the car, Fred jumped out and made a run for it. I dove after Fred, fell on the gasoline pump curb, and dislocated my shoulder. So much for a safety talk.
Last week I chided you, dear readers, about being on time for meetings and phone calls. The very next morning I completely missed a conference call I was scheduled to be on at 8:30 am. It was a phone call with one of the employees here at Paperitalo Publications and an outside person with whom we want to maintain a good reputation and a cordial working relationship.
So I go forward with trepidation, not knowing what admonition or bit of wisdom I may share here and immediately violate!
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In the vein of what we discussed last week, let's continue. An area where I think many fall down, especially if they are not used to being in this particular venue, is customer relations. When in doubt, defer to your customer. In line at a buffet at a conference, storytelling in a casual situation, wherever you are, the customer comes first. This is a quality issue of the first order. Be sensitized to your customer's needs and quirks and always defer to them. You can do this without appearing overly solicitous.
There is a person in our industry who happens to be a customer of mine. I have learned so much from him on these matters. He is a gentleman at all times and in all situations. Every time I think I am getting good at this, the next time I spend a few hours with him I realize how bad at it I am.
The watchword with customers is to anticipate. Anticipate their every need and in a professional, not groveling way, meet it.
One habit I practice on again, off again with customers and prospects is to drop a card in the mail to them after I have seen them. Usually from their local post office. Show people you care and your quality will shine through. This column will be a motivator for me to work on making this habit permanent.
Many mills have fallen into the habit of maintaining very poor reception areas. In the 1990's, it became popular to eliminate receptionists and replace them with a phone and an internal directory. This was supposed to send a message that the mill was frugal and watching costs. After all, who comes into the reception area except suppliers? (I simply hate the word vendors--I am not selling cotton candy on the midway.) Of course, when the reception area was abandoned, it was completely abandoned. I have seen some that look worse than the maintenance shop at a garbage truck dispatching facility.
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What message does this send to your suppliers? We don't care about quality and we don't care about you. What kind of service do you think you receive from suppliers who have to wade through trash? I think you can figure this out.
Quality not only starts with your employees, its starts with your suppliers, too. You can't expect quality from suppliers when you send them the wrong message.
I have told this story before but it is worth repeating. One executive I know did not eliminate receptionists from the facilities he operated. I asked him why. He said such an action is only fooling yourself. He said he knew for a fact that before lunch every day the rest of the people in his mills wasted more money than a receptionist costs in a year. He said he would rather work on that.
What do you think? Have I stretched the concept of quality too far? Let us know in our quiz this week.
For safety this week, how often do you see instructions for fire and police personnel posted prominently and neatly in reception areas? Despite your liaison work with your local public safety service, don't you think there just might be a time when they show up under extreme conditions and enter through the lobby? Don't you think it would be great to have some instructions for them there?
Be safe and we will talk next week.
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