Eliminate Customer Barriers

Jim Blasingame

Here is a true story from which several business lessons can be learned.
In early 2008, I needed to reach a friend who worked in the local branch of a big company. Looking for the local number in the phone book, there was only a toll-free number that connected to an answering system for the entire company. That's right, this business didn't publish a local number in the phone book and you're not going to believe this: The system did not offer an option to connect to any local branch or person. I'm not making this up.
Lesson 1: Don't create barriers to customers. I know you think you don't have any, but look anyway because you might.

Undaunted, I finally acquired the local number (yes, they had one), but the person who answered said my friend, who was in sales, had been laid off. It turns out that this publicly-traded corporation was losing money, so in order for the CEO to impress industry analysts (who could hurt the stock price) in the next quarter, almost 2,000 employees across the company were told to hit the bricks.

Never mind how valuable these employees were or what such cuts would ultimately do to the company's long-term performance; they needed to cut costs this quarter and the quickest way was to cut payroll.

Lesson 2:  Periodic performance goals are important for planning, but customers don't buy based on your schedule. Don't let internal pressure result in lost sales and, worse, lost relationships.
I learned that my friend was his branch's top producer, but since he was the last one hired, he was the first to go. He's no longer a payroll drain on his former employer, but he is now kicking their backside as a top producer with a competitor.
Lesson 3:  In the 21st century, seniority doesn't trump performance.
So, what if this big business CEO had simply installed a phone system that made sure customers could easily find the local number and quickly connect to that office? The answer is my friend and several hundred others would still have their jobs. Who knows? By simply eliminating one customer barrier, this company might have actually needed to hire more employees to handle all of the business that went somewhere else.
Lesson 4: If you need more sales revenue, make sure your organization - including people, systems and policies - aren't getting in the way of prospects and customers who want to do business with you.
Write this on a rock... Think you don't have customer barriers? Neither did that big business CEO.

Jim Blasingame is creator and host of the Small Business Advocate Show.
Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.

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