The three-minute rule


So much is talked about when it comes to customer service, customer retention and acquisition.

In all of my job roles, the customer is what interests me.

In a recent training session with an oil marketing company I introduced the section on customer strategy by asking how the company measures customer centricity.

Blank response. Their mission statement says that they are customer focused. However there isn’t a written down customer plan.

What happens in many companies is that customer satisfaction is not measured as part of every one’s key objectives.

In general, people will only work, on what they are being measured on. It is imperative to ensure that the customer is really uppermost in all employees’ minds.

Review your strategic plan for 2010 and see what has been said about customer service, acquisition and retention and how this has or hasn’t been drilled down into action plans.

What progress has been made thus far in 2010? There are only four productive months left in 2010.

Customer care or customer service is often a function somewhere in sales and is not looked at as revenue generation.

I would say that is why it is not at the top of the strategy discussion.

Finance will immediately consider customer service activities as an expense.

Each departmental head should have to present a customer strategy, not only sales and marketing.

They should give three action points on how their department will improve customer service to ensure revenue generation, customer satisfaction and the conversion of new customers.

Once agreed these actions must be measured. Human resources, with the sales and marketing managers will be able to identify any gaps and training needs.

For example, the action point may be answering the phone within four rings and attending to a request without referring it to someone else.

This may mean that telephone skills in customer care and sales skills are needed.

You will probably identify that the biggest blocker in decision-making is product knowledge and empowerment.

Often it is simple things that stand in the way of good customer service. You don’t have to re invent the wheel.

My favourite question when looking at working on a customer strategy is:

What is a customer doing 3 minutes before using your product and 3 minutes after? Ask the customer if you don’t know the answers. Ask the shop floor staff.

Dig and drill until you uncover what the customers’ real need is. That way you may uncover something that as a business you are not doing and can implement.

I am always excited when there is a possibility to introduce or to build on the existing product offering.

At a recent sales session I did with the oil marketing team, referred to above, we drilled on the 3-minute rule. We discovered that because there isn’t an Automobile Association in Zambia or a breakdown service that is sold to individuals and corporate companies there was a new opportunity.

What happens when one is on the road home and one’s tyre is punctured, or the battery dies?

Most of the roads here in Zambia, are dark and there isn’t help nearby.

Linking a road rescue card that is backed by an insurance company and their own garages and distributors will give them an edge in the market.

If we hadn’t asked that question – what is the customer doing 3 minutes before or after using your product, we wouldn’t have come up with that solution.

I have been working with a selection of entrepreneurial businesses that have grown rapidly and now require policies and procedures and corporate structure.

It is a mission to implement a re-structure when the owner/original shareholders are too attached to the business.

They also have staff that has been loyal and now the workload has changed, so a human resource officer is essential and a qualified accountant is a necessity.

The old faithful do not want to relinquish power and so obstruct the plans for streamlining and professionalism.

Indeed, the world of consulting and training is interesting and I like to be part of the change process team so that there is accountability on both sides, mine and theirs.

Perhaps I am still a rookie at consulting and can’t walk away after implementation. I am a control freak I guess!

When last did the management team look at how the accounts are sent out and how the customer receives these?

Again try and decipher the information on the account. These are usually the reasons for late payments and queries.

Customer strategy really must look at all the points of contact and not in a high level way, in the first instance, but at the basics.

How often are we irritated at poor telephone responses, queues for bread or at the delicatessen in a supermarket, check-outs in supermarkets and hotels and getting the bill in a restaurant. The banks are a whole other topic.

So before there is hype about the next big idea, get to grips with all these basics and make the customer want to do business with you.

It is worthwhile to do a one-day session with the management team and ask them the question: What are our customers doing 3 minutes before they use our products and 3 minutes after using them?

Let me know what you come up with.

Carol White is Zimbabwean living in Zambia. She runs a training and consultancy business.

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