Consulting Services: David Bernstein, Propeller Solutions Group, Park City, Utah

Like it or not, prior to this year people outside of our industry rarely considered laundry services until and unless they needed them to support their own restaurant, bar, medical office, car dealership or hotel.

Now that people from all walks of life are sharply focused on cleanliness, hygiene and infection prevention, our industry has emerged not only as an essential service, but also as one that provides an important layer of protection for people’s health and safety—things we’ve all known throughout our careers.

We all appreciate the attention on our industry, especially when it means the potential for more customers, but with this increase in attention comes the need for each of us to demonstrate our value proposition to both prospective and current customers.

The best way to stand out from your competition is to really and truly focus on ensuring that your present customers are not just satisfied, but that they are, in fact, delighted. A person is said to be satisfied when their minimum expectations have been met; one who is delighted has had their expectations exceeded.

The dictionary also notes that those who are delighted are those who are, “feeling or showing great pleasure.” Great pleasure? With a laundry service? Absolutely!

When you have customers who are consistently delighted, your sales and customer-service teams can ask for and follow-up on referrals. Unfortunately, however, statistics show that while a whopping 91% of customers would give referrals, only 11% of salespeople ever ask for them. That is a tragedy.

Whenever I teach a class on sales or customer service and give the above statistics I look out across the audience and see more than a few surprised and skeptical faces. When I inquire about their incredulity, the inevitable answer is a belief in the value of cold calling. And that suits me just fine because that’s when I hit my attendees with another set of statistics.

To wit, I explain how a study from the Wharton School of Business found that the lifetime value of a referred customer is 16% higher than other customers, while the Journal of Marketing found that these referred customers are 18% more loyal.

In other words, while countless salespeople around the world slave away each day making cold calls, these calls have a success rate of just 1-2%, while companies whose salespeople rely on referred sales calls close with a 55-80% success rate.

All of this is to say that if your teams aren’t asking for and following up on referrals, they’re leaving your money on the table.

While your sales and customer success teams are following up with your satisfied customers (they are doing that on a regular basis, right?) and using this time to collect referrals, they should also be collecting testimonials and positive “proofs” that they can use on future sales calls.

These kinds of personal and demonstrable stories of your success provide objective and verifiable evidence of what makes your company great to do business with.

It is 2020 after all, so be sure to spread these good news stories as widely as possible using your social media channels and be sure to encourage (perhaps even incentivize) happy customers to leave positive reviews on the Internet in places like Yelp, Facebook and Google Reviews.

Of course, referrals, testimonials and proofs are only possible if your company culture is one that prioritizes a focus on providing superior customer service, value, and quality to your customers.

One of my favorite books on this subject is Delivering Happiness, written by Zappos founder and former CEO Tony Hsieh. Hsieh’s book is a history of the founding of Zappos but it also reads like a manual on how to build a culture of serving customers.

Some might argue that Hsieh’s ideas and methods are too progressive or alternative for an industry like ours, but I would argue that this kind of thinking about building a company culture based upon customer service and, as the title says, delivering happiness, is exactly what is needed to ensure your ability to differentiate your company from those of your competitors.

According to Hsieh, “for individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.”

He further says, “The No. 1 driver of our growth at Zappos has been repeat customers and word of mouth. Our philosophy has been to take most of the money we would have spent on paid advertising and invest it into customer service and the customer experience instead, letting our customers do the marketing for us through word of mouth.”

And if you’re still not convinced, bear in mind that Zappos was founded in 1999 and was sold to Amazon just 10 years later for $1.2 billion (that’s billion, with a B).

Customer service is not just at the core of Zappos’ internal company culture, it is also front and center in all of the company’s internal and external communications and branding.

If you’ve ever done business with them, you’ve received one of their iconic white boxes emblazoned with their company logo and the phrase, “powered by service.” This message is ubiquitous at Zappos, including their famous four-week employee training program, every e-mail signature, signage, website and social channels. Service is their ethos.

What’s your company’s ethos and what does your company’s branding say about it? Some of the most successful companies in our industry, any industry, are those that demonstrate their commitment to their culture through their branding.

Providing consistent and memorable branding not only builds awareness in your company, but it also helps convey your company culture, vision and value to current and prospective customers.

Those who have done it right have their branding on trucks, employee uniforms, customer invoices, company brochures, buildings and packaging.

Consistent, ubiquitous and genuine messaging pervades these companies’ cultures and, therefore, in the attitudes of their employees.

As Tony Hsieh says, “Good service comes naturally from the satisfied employees who embrace the company culture.”

So, if you want to stand out from your competition and see consistent and sustainable growth in your organization, analyze your company, its culture, its brand and its customer service through the eyes of your customers. The lessons you learn will continue to pay back for many years to come.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion with thoughts from our commercial laundry, chemicals supply and textiles experts.