I have been getting my car fixed at the same garage for the past dozen years. I started going there because it was walking distance from my house and the convenience made me give it a try. I soon found that the staff was attentive to my car's needs, attentive to me as a person by always calling me promptly when issues had to be resolved, and they never tried to gouge me by convincing me I needed costly repairs when I didn't. On occasion the manager or owner even gave me a ride to work. When I walk in the door they immediately open the computer to my file and know when I need a tune-up, when it's time to check the brakes and more. If I call the owner or manager, they call me back within the hour.
This attitude of customer response won my loyalty and repeat business. It's simple. And it's one of the attitudes that makes Metrolift, the subject of this month's cover story, so successful. If a customer calls them, they can generally deal with an issue immediately. If a question needs to be resolved, it is resolved quickly. The owner gets personally involved in the process, so the customer feels, when he deals with the company, that he knows the owner, the owner is an ally, he can call him on the phone and reach him immediately. In fact, the owner is not adverse to answering the phone himself. On more than one occasion when I called Metrolift to speak to owner Rick Dahl, Rick answered the phone himself.
It's not that Metrolift lacks staff. Dahl was free at that moment, so he answered the phone. He wasn't too important to deal with what might have been a mundane question. He wasn't hiding behind his secretary or his voicemail who had to shield him from time-consuming inquiries or dissatisfied customers. He seemed to have nothing to lose, nobody to fear.
As operations manager Todd Arganbright says, “We're into quick response, it's like a guerrilla warfare approach to the customer.” A customer calls, they respond immediately. They don't wait until the next day; they don't put it on the back burner. If the customer chooses your place of business to inquire, there's a pretty good chance he needs something and he's giving you the opportunity to win his business. You got something more important to do?
As companies grow, and workflow charts are established — and this is a normal, necessary part of running a business — upper management gets removed from the front lines. Essential operational efficiency demands that structure. But taking care of a customer when he calls, getting back involved in the essence of the business — taking an order and making sure that it's taken care of — is probably a good thing for an owner to do sometimes. Remember what it's like to be dealing with the customer directly? Remember when you had the hunger to succeed, when you would drive all night to make sure a customer got the piece of equipment that he needed?
I once knew an owner of a fleet of trucks who once a week would go out on a run, so he wouldn't forget what his customers were concerned about, so he would always remember what his drivers were facing. He said he would get his best ideas for improving his company while driving, not while sitting in a boardroom having an executive lunch. And he would have no problem sitting with his drivers in a bar or lunchroom or with his mechanics in the shop talking about issues that concerned them.
Metrolift is a small company that's just beginning to grow into that mid-sized range when organization becomes extremely important. But I hope it never loses its hunger to succeed, its commitment to satisfy the customers' need with immediate attention. While operational efficiencies and management structures should never be underestimated, while the development of technology systems and operational flow charts that optimize resources are vital to a growing company, they should never replace that edge, that drive, that hunger and belief. If it emanates from the owner, it will permeate the company and be communicated to the customer in both subtle and powerful ways.