There was really no reason to get my teenage son a new bed.

Sure, he complained that his bed was too small and uncomfortable. True, it was the same bed he'd slept in since he was six. But also true was that the bed sat in the middle of his room - a foul cesspool that we call "the hole."

In "the hole," things move on the floor. Clothes stick to the wall. Pets defecate. Ants construct mini-cities around the remnants of donuts and potato chips. This is my son's room. Why on earth would we want to put a brand-new bed in the middle of it?

Well, as parents often do, my wife and I caved to his demands, naively thinking that maybe a new bed might in itself motivate him to fumigate, clean and de-fungify that place. So we ordered a new bed for him.

Other parents of teenaged boys will recognize "the hole." But whether you've got kids or not, you're going to recognize the next part of this story. It's about what happened after we decided to buy my son a new bed. That's because we made the colossal mistake of ordering our son's bed from Ronald & James.

Dear reader, be alert. Here it comes.

Ronald & James is a made-up name for a real-life furniture store. Excellent selection. Very nice staff. Reasonable prices. We bought the bed and were happy with the purchase. We paid up front. We were told that we would be called when the bed was delivered to the store and we could set up delivery from there. We actually felt bad for the delivery guys. We paid extra for the Hazmat suits they needed to enter the hole.

And sure enough, a few days later, we got the call from the store to schedule delivery. Know what's coming next?

"Would you be available next Thursday?" I was asked.

"Sure," I said. And then I asked a silly question: "Can you come by at 10?"

Dead silence. "Hello?" I said again.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we can't confirm a time."

"Excuse me?"

"We just need to know the day you're available and then we'll call you the night before to give you a window of time for when the delivery truck will arrive."

It took a few seconds for this to sink in. The nice girl from Ronald & James was asking me to keep next Thursday, the entire day, completely free and clear. And then the night before they'd give me a "window" when they'd be coming by. I was being asked to re-arrange my life for Ronald & James. And worse, for a bed likely to be covered in mold within a few weeks of arriving.

Of course, Ronald & James had lots of good reasons for this policy. The nice girl explained them to me. They have many delivery trucks to schedule. Their computer system won't let them lock in a date until the day before. That's because it works out the most efficient ways to schedule these trucks. These are all good reasons. For Ronald & James. For Ronald & James' profits. For Ronald & James' shareholders.

Hooray for Ronald & James. But what about me? Don't I have a life? Don't I have a job? I'm going to re-arrange my whole schedule so I can accommodate them? The nice girl on the phone didn't seem to care too much about this. Not her fault. She was just following policy. Ronald & James' policy.

 

CUSTOMERS COME FIRST

Good companies don't have policies like these. They wouldn't treat their customers or clients this way.

They put their customers' satisfaction before their own internal systems and profit margins. They are grateful, especially in these times, when a customer makes a significant purchase. They do everything possible to accommodate their customers' schedules. They work hard to give them the best experience possible from the time they walk in the door to the time they complete a survey at the end. They know that getting paid up front doesn't mean the customer has relinquished all control over when their product gets delivered.

Good business people are always looking to improve their systems. They're not tied down by their own technology. If customers are frustrated, then they try to figure out how they can use their software to reduce that frustration. I have many clients - accountants, roofers, window cleaners and landscapers - who seem capable of scheduling their service guys two or three weeks in advance. Some use software to do this. Others put it all on a big white board. Whatever. These people just make sure their customers are happy first.

Good business people also think of creative ways to service their customers and still profit. For example, maybe the management gurus at Ronald & James could come up with a new delivery-pricing schedule. High-maintenance customers who insist on specific times of delivery could pay a premium. The rest can pay a standard charge. Wouldn't this compensate for any potential profit loss? Customers like having options.

I gave up, of course. I re-arranged my schedule to accommodate Ronald & James. It irks me to admit this. I got my revenge in the end, though. I didn't warn the delivery guys about "the hole." And they all came down with some sort of flesh-eating skin affliction, which caused them to miss a few weeks of work. What a headache for Ronald & James' delivery operation! They learned more than one lesson that day: Don't forget your Hazmat suit when entering "the hole." And pay a little more attention to the needs of your clients.

 

 

Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsized businesses.

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