When the Decision is Made for You

My Oak & Apple partner Cal put up a post titled “Hat Trick” not too long ago about an unsatisfying experience at a lululemon store, highlighting how an absence of customer focus led him to decide to stop doing business with the retailer.  I also had an experience recently that demonstrated the power of a company’s customer focus, so much so that my decision was made for me.

I needed to sell my late mother’s house.  A friend strongly recommended a local realtor. I met the two principals of the firm (let’s call it Also-Ran Realty) who were perfectly nice, competent agents.  They recommended some renovations to the property and delivered an analysis supporting a listing price.  It was all very professional and I was ready to sign.

I saw a postcard from Prudential NJ Properties (“PNP”) in Verona.  I called PNP to confirm there weren’t any real differences. Then I’d go with Also-Ran.

Kerry from PNP visited and also made repair recommendations.  She excluded renovations that wouldn’t add to the house’s salability or price. Without being asked, she obtained bids from the trades – painting, floor installation, electrical, masonry, plumbing, cleaning – that were far less costly than mine.

Once I approved, Kerry scheduled and monitored each trade’s work, inspected and had work redone, all within weeks on time and on budget. She also referred a qualified, very reasonable attorney and provided, for free, a stager to decorate the house.  The total outlay was modest and a fraction of her $50,000 higher listing price. I’d heard nothing further from Also-Ran.

Six weeks in, Kerry asked to stop by to sign the listing contract.  I didn’t have to think about it, just set the meeting.  As for Also-Ran, they called 2 weeks after the house was listed to “check in;” by then, we had 3 offers at the asking price and were finalizing a contract (which closed a month later).

A company’s customer focus has two major components: (1) knowing one’s customer and (2) empowering front-line employees to do the right thing for the customer.  Kerry, PNP’s front-line employee, knew that home-sellers like me are generally unfamiliar with, and overwhelmed by, the process, and she handled all the details rather than burden me.  In addition, PNP clearly gave her the authority to do all that needed to be done to serve her customer.  I didn’t need to collect or analyze data; the power of those two elements combined made my decision for me.

Oh, by the way, Cal has asked for an introduction to Kerry and PNP to list a property he’ll be selling, which I’ll gladly do. That’s 2 decisions made by my realtor’s customer focus.

How does your business use customer focus to attract and retain business?  Please share with us what’s key to your customer focus.

About Ken Drossman

Ken Drossman is a Managing Director at Oak & Apple Partners, LLC. Ken has spent more than 35 years demonstrating practical financial acumen by leading, advising and guiding privately-owned, small and middle-market companies through financial and operating challenges. He has in-depth experience in all phases of financial, strategic and operating management from hands on cash flow budgeting through acquisition financing, from divestiture of business units to reorganizing and leading newly formed companies. Prior to co-founding Oak & Apple Partners, Ken has been the principal at Lakeview Business Consulting, LLC, which assists entrepreneurial business owners and their companies in achieving their business vision. Ken earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Before founding Lakeview Business Consulting in 2006, he served for 18 years as CEO, COO and/or CFO at several privately-owned companies, in industries including financial services for hospitals; digital document storage and outsourced back-office services for professional service firms; design and distribution of personal business accessories through big-box retailers; capital goods manufacturing for national and regional retail chains; and information services for beverage alcohol manufacturing and marketing companies. Previously, Ken was a Partner at Grant Thornton, LLP, where he provided management consulting services to such companies as AT&T, Baxter Laboratories and GTE-Sylvania, as well as many middle-market companies.
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