Customer Service Is Key to Success In a competitive market, relationships make a difference
By Susan van Kinsbergen, CDT
Supply and demand determine the importance of customer service in all areas of business. For some organizations, it is not a priority. If you have ever visited the Department of Motor Vehicles, you understand the concept of a single supplier with no competition, where consumers must accept the service they receive or go without. Competition has always existed in our industry, but never more so than now. Supply is abundant, and with decreasing prices, laboratories are struggling to find ways to keep their heads above water. Success depends on the relationship between the client and laboratory, which has been developed and nurtured over time. This would be impossible without good customer service.
Who you are as a company and what you stand for must be considered before you can decide how you will serve your customers. What are your values? What is your purpose for being in business? In order to build your business, it's important to understand what you're trying to do so that you can focus on the type of service you want to provide your customers. Built to Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras illustrates two examples of companies that have developed core ideologies with extremely different approaches to customer service.
Nordstrom Core Ideology:
Service to the customer above all else
• Hard work and productivity
• Continuous improvement, never being satisfied
• Excellence in reputation, being part of something special
Walmart Core Ideology:
• "We exist to provide value to our customers," to make their lives better via lower prices and greater selection; all else is secondary
• Swim upstream, buck conventional wisdom
• Be in partnership with employees
• Work with passion, commitment, and enthusiasm
• Run lean
• Pursue ever-higher goals
Both ideologies have built successful customer service scenarios, but they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Nordstrom's has made its mission to put the customer first, above all else. If an item is mismarked, the customer will pay the price listed on the tag. The company doesn't ask any questions if an item is returned. The customer is ALWAYS right. However, this type of customer service isn't cheap. Nordstrom has undoubtedly worked this cost into its price point, as should high-end laboratories. Walmart, on the other hand, offers a very low price point for the products it sells, but has not made personalized customer service a priority and so doesn't incur the same expenses. Instead, Walmart's customer service is based on presenting the best value to its shoppers by giving them consistently low prices.
Price point must be considered when deciding how to approach customer service. Higher priced laboratories most likely can afford a higher level of customer service, such as a larger customer service staff, a free remake guarantee, or a rush case at no charge. Lower priced laboratories, conversely, need to present no-frills customer service based on speed and consistency. Expectations will be lower for a less expensive laboratory. A dentist who might reject a case from a high-end laboratory would accept that same case from a less expensive laboratory. Understanding your customers' expectations is the first step in targeting where to direct your customer service efforts.
Once you know who you are and what type of customer service you will be providing, it is important to measure yourself. Take a baseline benchmark, and then measure your performance weekly or monthly. In the author's column in the October 2016 issue of Inside Dental Technology, the topic of how laboratory owners should rely on internal business reports to manage and grow their business was addressed. For example, tracking the metrics on how many cases you receive per day, month, and year as well as the percentage of those cases that have been returned for any reason and then comparing those figures to the same time period the previous year is a good indicator of where your business is heading. As Donald Park, CEO of Central Dental Holdings, once said: "Without numbers, we can't survive."
Few companies have a reputation for excellent customer service. Those that do have worked hard to develop an entire system to handle the internal and external aspects of customer service using well trained and managed employees and a commitment of capital and technology. Their sales and marketing efforts are usually tied to their excellent customer service, as well.
We can agree that our best accounts trust us. We probably also can agree that most of us will bend over backward for our best accounts. This trust and generous service is the key to a successful business, and it can be applied to every situation. Excellent customer service, regardless of what type of laboratory you are or want to become, is the best way to build that strong relationship between your laboratory and the customer.
Susan van Kinsbergen, CDT, is Vice President of Quality and Production Systems for Dental Arts Laboratory, Inc in Peoria, Illinois.