If you want to be successful in business, never say no. Serve your customers. Your customers simply want to be helped.
This post is going to start off with a bit of a rant about a recent, negative, experience with American Airlines. I promise there is much more to this post than just this rant. I’ll share with you some key points on how I was successful with my software company by serving my customers and finding a way to say “yes”. This initial story about American Airlines will be an example of how NOT to handle customers.
My Negative Experience With American Airlines
Last Saturday, me and Ms. Hobo returned to the (sea) port in Miami after a nice, week long cruise in the Caribbean (my first, week long, vacation in over 10 years). There was only one piece of the trip left… to fly back home to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. If you’ve read much from me, you know the one luxury I love to treat myself to these days is flying First Class, and it’s usually with American Airlines. This trip was no different.
So after a peaceful ride via a car service from the port in Miami to Fort Lauderdale airport (FLL), we began the process of checking in our bags. This is where things went a bit south.
This was a typical check-in counter with a couple of checking in (two “middle age” females), a guy doing bag-only check ins, and some other agents down a bit doing non-first class check-ins. After the normal “what flight” and “show me your ID” discussion, we began checking in and weighing our luggage. Two large suitcases and one small. When the agent went to print the luggage/flight tags, the printer ran out of paper. No big deal, these things happen, other than the agent had trouble getting the tags to reload into the printer, but I was patient. After about 10 minutes, she requested what appeared to be a senior (male) agent to help her reload the printer (we’ll call him “Bill”). Bill came down, got the printer working again, they tagged my first bag, and he placed it on the conveyor belt to head to the plane. Bill walked away to start helping other non-first-class customers check-in (about 100 feet away). Then the second bag went on. It was labeled “Heavy”. Since it was heavy, she couldn’t move it to the conveyor belt. [Side note, if you can’t move heavier bags, you probably shouldn’t be working at the gate.] She called out to “Bill”, but he was engaged with customers. The other guy that was doing bag-only loading was also working a line of customers. So I waited patiently. Another 10 minutes or so. I’m figuring after 5 minutes even, she will call out again. But no, she just stood there staring at Bill (and holding up other customers behind me). [I know what you’re thinking… oh, THIS is Mr. Hobo’s negative story… he was impatient and had to wait a bit… poor Mr. Hobo — No, if you think that, you’d be wrong.] The guy in the middle doing the bag-only loading is down to one or two customers, so I finally POLITELY asked “Can you ask the “bag guy” to come help you load/finish my bag?”… to which she replied… “He’s not a “bag guy”… he’s an “agent”… we’re all agents… there are no “bag guys” working here. To which I replied, I don’t care what his or your title is, please ask him to come help load my bag so I can get going. To which she mumbled something about agents again, and I bit my tongue.
So What’s The Big Deal?
The big deal is she,
the bag lady the agent, was more worried about a job title than helping me… serving me… the customer. She was offended that I called the guy loading bags… wait for it… the bag guy.
Your Customers Don’t Care What Your Job Title Is — They Just Want To Be Helped
Your customers simply want to be helped when there is a problem. Most everyone’s job in life is to serve others. You’re either serving customers or co-workers. We all do it. And when we’re not doing it, we like to be served ourselves. I’m convinced that’s why Starbucks is so popular. People don’t mind paying a premium to be served a little bit.
We have a simple rule at my software company. If you can help a customer, no matter what it is, just help them. Period. Our business model is a recurring software revenue model (or SAAS), so customer’s licenses expire after one year and have to be renewed yearly. As you can imagine, we have a number of customers that don’t renew on time. If a customer goes down, we get them back up and running first (even if it’s for only 3-7 days while they work out renewing), and THEN we ask for money to renew for another year. We don’t hold them hostage and say, well… you didn’t pay on time… now you must suffer until you pay us again. No. We get them up and running, serve them, show them they and their business matters, and then we ask for money. And of course, if a customer does this year after year, we get a little stricter, but in general, if a customer is “down”, the software isn’t working, our #1 priority is to get them back up and running first, before doing or demanding anything.
Just Do The Job (Serve)
When I was in college, I worked at a Gold’s Gym selling memberships and occasionally training members. You know what else I had to do? Clean the bathrooms. Although I didn’t complain about it, I didn’t care for it at the time. I didn’t understand why it was so important. It was important, because when you’re serving customers, you’re serving them everywhere… including the bathroom. Fast forward to doing Airbnbs with my son now, and guess what… I’m still cleaning bathrooms. While he does it full time, I still do it when I visit him. I don’t mind. There’s something about cleaning bathrooms, serving others in that way, that keeps you humble and thankful for what you’ve got. I simply want people who stay at our Airbnbs to feel like it’s the cleanest place they’ve ever stayed.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve also produced a few independent movies. People like to ask “what exactly does a producer do?”. In independent movie-making, anything that needs to be done. Sometimes that means serving lunch to your crew and eating last (or not eating at all). Sometimes that means passing out water bottles and iced coffee when you’re filming outside, in Texas, during the summer, when temps are above 100 degrees. It means carrying and moving gear to speed up the setup for a shot. It means picking up and dropping off actors at the airport. If you don’t have a serving mentality in life, you won’t win. It’s important. Do what needs to be done. Period. Your job title doesn’t matter.
Tillman Fertitta and Serving Scrambled Eggs
I recently read Tillman Fertitta’s new book, Shut Up and Listen. He could have also named it Shut Up and Serve. Tillman is a billionaire owner of multiple restaurants (over 600), casinos, and he’s the owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. I understand completely why he’s been so successful. He has always put the customer first. He has a great story at the beginning of the book about serving scrambled eggs. There are so many restaurants where you ask for something and they act like it’s too hard to make, or change, or that you “just missed breakfast” by 10 minutes. It’s stupid. One example of this is going into most any restaurant, asking for eggs and toast, or just scrambled eggs, the waiter has no problem saying “no, we can’t do that”. Tillman says if the customer asks for scrambled eggs, and you have eggs and a pan, MAKE SCRAMBLED EGGS for goodness sake. It’s not rocket-science. I couldn’t agree more. Before McDonald’s started offering breakfast all day, there was a running joke about not being a minute late for breakfast, because they had NO PROBLEM telling you NO, breakfast was over.
Writing about all of this, I remember a similar experience at a Subway in my neighborhood back in the 90’s. I frequented the shop, and I once asked for extra tomatoes on my foot-long tuna sandwich. The owner, who was making my sandwich, told me no. I pointed out that not everyone even asks for tomatoes, and many don’t put veggies on at all, so if someone asks for extra of a vegetable, why would you say no. He said it costs too much. You know what also costs too much? Losing customers. I never, ever, stepped foot back in that Subway ever again, and I’ve never forgotten that negative experience. [Note, not every negative experience is bad — sometimes it teaches you how NOT to treat others.]
There’s Really No Reason To Ever Say No
The other rule we have at my software company is if a customer asks us for something or to do something that we believe we can’t do, just put a price on. It may even be a high price they would never pay, but don’t say no. Say, yes, we can do it, but it will cost X. This solution works for most anything. Even the egg example above. If you have a restaurant, and someone asks for scrambled eggs, just say, we can do it, but because it’s not normally served at this time, it will cost $20 (instead of $10-$15). This “technique” can also become a money-maker for you. I first used it when an old customer asks me to do training at his company on a product I was no longer doing training on. I told him I didn’t really do training anymore, and I told him I would do it, but my price would be double what it used to be ($3500/day) — he still said yes.
If they want scrambled eggs… make scrambled eggs.Tillman Fertitta
Never say no. Always find a way to say yes.Mr. Hobo Millionaire
Who Would You Choose To Do Business With?
If you can choose between a company that says no all the time or a company that always finds a way to say yes… who would you choose? Be the company or person or consultant that says “yes”. It will go a long ways to helping you be successful.
What’s something you’ve done to take care of a customer? Or tell me about a negative experience you’ve had. Comment below.