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"Good Horsemanship is Built on Solid Basics...So is Good Business!"

Are There Bugs In Your Customer Service?
By Lisa Derby Oden

Did you know that according to studies by the US Consumer Affairs
Department, TARP, and General Electric:
~ It costs fives times as much to get a new customer as it does to bring
back an existing customer.
~ The longer you keep a customer, the more money you will make.
~ Only 2-4% of dissatisfied customers ever complain about a bad experience,
they just leave and most likely do business with your competitors.
~ Word-of-mouth has a large role in consumer decisions, two times more than
advertising. Negative word-of-mouth is very damaging since dissatisfied
customers are usually more vocal than satisfied customers. Bad experiences
are relayed to 10-20 others, three times more than good experiences.

Sit and think for a few minutes. I'll bet that you can come up with a
list of places that you'll "never go back there again because." Think some
more and list the places that you can say, "They went above and beyond
when." You're well on your way to discovering what's behind winning and
losing customer service strategies. The following stories provide examples
for examining this topic.

True story #1 -
It's October, winter is approaching and you're building a small barn. You've
finally located the stall door and hardware that you want. You place the
order and send a check as payment (which is required) on Oct. 28. Two weeks
later you're attending an equine expo, and the distributor is an exhibitor
at the show. You speak with him about your order and are assured that the
order will be shipped as soon as the event is over. A week goes by.nothing,
so you call and leave a message. Two more days go by.nothing, so you call
again and leave a message. This pattern continues for three weeks after the
expo. Finally on December 8 your door and hardware arrives. You're glad to
finally have the goods, but still steaming that not one of your phone calls
was returned.
Losing service points: 1) Made a promise that wasn't delivered on; 2) When a
problem was identified, it wasn't resolved quickly 3) The distributor did
not make it easy for the customer to deal with them; 4) The distributor did
not stay in frequent contact with the customer.

True story #2 -
You board your horse year-round at a facility with an indoor. In the winter,
the facility fills because of the indoor, but board for seasonal boarders is
$100/month more than you pay. The facility requires that arena time must be
scheduled in advance, as boarders usually have the arena to themselves (it
measures 60' x 120'). The year-round boarders are given last preference to
indoor arena time. You question why you should readjust your schedule for
someone that is there only temporarily. The owner/manager feels that since
the seasonal boarders are paying more and are only there for the winter and
the indoor, they should get first preference.
Losing service points: 1) Serving the customers needs did not take priority
over meeting their own internal needs; 2) The owner/manager does not look
for ways to eliminate problems based on customer input.

True story #3 -
You pick up the phone and order a saddle pad for a horse show that is 2
weeks away. As you place your order, you can hear that there kids, lots of
noise, and commotion in the background. The horse pad seller starts to ask
all the right marketing questions: "How did you hear about us?" You respond
that it was by word-of-mouth from someone who swore that the pads were
phenomenal. You inform here of the short time frame, and ask if this time
frame is feasible. She abruptly asks for your name, address, and phone
number, and says, "Sorry, lots going on, I'll have to give you a call back."
Later in the day you receive a message on your answering machine that says
she'll send the pad to this address - there's no need to call her again
unless this is wrong. Time passes by. It's now two days before the show and
your pad still hasn't arrived. You call to inquire about the situation,
only to discover the pad hasn't been shipped yet. The seller then starts to
argue with you regarding how the information transfer actually occurred.
Losing service points: 1) Seller does not use business methods that "wow"
the customer; 2) Seller does not move to resolve the customer complaint; 3)
Seller is not committed to do whatever it takes to create satisfied

Defining customer service offers a good starting point. Entrepreneurial Edge
Online provides this definition: Customer service is meeting the needs and
expectations of the customer as defined by the customer. This means knowing
what your customers want, what they expect, and providing it to them on a
consistent basis. You must go beyond what your own perceptions are of what
you think your customers want. To develop a winning customer service
strategy you must ask your customers what they want.

5 keys to a winning customer service strategy

1) Know your service cycle - This encompasses how you acquire, serve and
keep your customers. It includes promises made in marketing materials;
taking orders or confirming doing business; processing orders; delivering
products and services; and taking care of problems.
2) Utilize "moments of truth" - Coined by Jan Carlzon, this phrase refers to
any opportunity that the customer has to form an impression of the company.
Examples are: calling in an order, receiving an invoice, talking to a
salesperson, response to email.
3) Turn the pyramid upside down - Instead of the customer at the bottom of
the organization pyramid, followed by employees, then manager/owner, put the
customer at the top. This change reflects that the customer is served by the
entire organization. Are all involved in the organization in tune with this
4) Let customers have a say - Provide numerous opportunities for thoughts,
needs, ideas and irritations. Suggestion boxes, surveys, and personal
accessibility are fit. How many other creative ways can you think of to
discover more about what your customers want?
5) Value difficult customers - They provide a glimpse at many areas that may
need improving, and at least they're telling you about it and giving you the
opportunity to fix it. Who knows how many others have been irritated by the
same things, only haven't spoken up and have simply gone somewhere else!

(Lisa Derby Oden has been providing business development, marketing, and association consulting services to the horse industry since 1995. She is the 1999 AHC Van Ness Award recipient for outstanding service to the horse industry.
She can be reached at: (603)878-1694; email at; or visit her website at

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