ROANOKE, Va. — Some managers believe that giving customers what they want is the best form of customer service. Customers are always sure of what they want and will strongly ask for it, unless they are educated as to why what they want is not really in their best interest.
Sadly, many managers never try to explain why a particular request is not a good idea. They either refuse the request and disappoint the customer, or they give the customer what they want and live with the negative consequences to their operation.
I will use a couple of examples to illustrate my point. A small, highly lucrative customer does not want any of its linen tied in bundles. The normal service system is based on all linen being tied into standard item bundles. Since this customer has a legitimate need to this request, and because meeting its request will not be overly difficult based on the size and frequency of the order, you decide to meet the request. The customer is happy, you are happy, and there are minor, if any, negative consequences.
Another customer requests the same thing, and it happens to be one of your largest customers. The accommodation you made for the first customer will not work for this one. You determine that in order to effectively meet this customer request, you would need to eliminate the bundling and tying system in the laundry. The laundry was originally designed around the automatic tying of bundles.
Meeting this customer request will require the removal of a number of conveyors and automatic tie machines. While this can be engineered and handled, the overall efficiency of the movement of linen through the laundry will be hurt. Employees who have never been asked to pack carts or count above 10 will need to develop new skills. The flow of finished product through the laundry will slow down.
More importantly, delivery crews at all hospitals that have relied on the bundles for speed counting and restocking of shelves will be slowed down. Hospitals that try to count and manage their inventory will find their linen room inventory much more difficult to manage.
Unfortunately, there is no real right or wrong answer in this situation. The manager must decide which of the two options is better for his/her operation and which is the most cost-effective. The local market may dictate that the predominate style of service is bulk linen with untied bundles. To swim against the accepted service level is difficult.
Either way, the manager is going to have to explain in great detail about why the change was or was not implemented. If the requested change is not implemented, then he/she will have to try to explain why the current system is really in the best interest of the customer. Failure to do a good job could result in the loss of the customer.
If you implement the requested change, you will need to explain to your boss why the laundry will be less efficient for a while during the changeover procedure. There is a chance that the laundry will never be as efficient as it was before the change. If that happens, what is the increased cost? It is vitally important to understand how everything goes together.
Customer service is not easy, and it takes real salesmanship to convince either your boss or the customer about the recommended changes. It also helps to brainstorm with your staff and determine what advantages and/or disadvantages will result from the change and how that will affect the profitability of all your accounts.
This is where a manager truly earns his/her salary.