Bus and Motor Coach Library

The Importance of Customer Service
“A Most Important Ingredient to Success...”

Author – Brian Niddery (2004)

How many companies or organizations really put the customer first?  How many actually build their organization around their customers, making their customers their central and primary focus?
Most company officials will profess that their organization is built on customer service, but for most the reality is merely lip service. 

Have you ever noticed that just about every profile ever done on a bus company in almost every bus industry publication has nearly the same story line?  It starts out with a brief history of the company, such as "In 1908 my grandfather founded the..." It then speaks of the company's spectacular growth.  "In 1908 we had just one taxi, 95 years later the company has a fleet of 2 motorcoaches and 3 school buses".  The story goes on to mention the unparalleled loyalty of their employees, and their strict hiring practices.  And of course in every such story the excitement heightens - indeed reaches a climax when they talk about their really superior customer service.

In one such story that appeared a couple of years ago, the company talked about how thoroughly they screen candidate drivers.  A few months later, one of their drivers ran off the interstate killing 14 passengers. Subsequent investigation revealed that this particular driver hired earlier that year had history of alcoholism, substance abuse, and suffered congestive heart and other chronic health problems, along with a long laundry list of serious driving convictions. It’s not hard to imagine the effort (or lack of) that this particular coach operator put into his hiring practices. And that would be about the same level of effort this operator likely put into treating its customers. In reading between the lines it’s not hard to imagine that for some operators their idea of customer satisfaction is to cut $50 off the price quoted by their competitor down the road.

The most successful and profitable of organizations in any field or endeavor has one essential ingredient - an obsession with taking care of their customers. For them it’s not just a fanciful statement framed on the wall, but a deep cultural belief that is transformed in actions and respected by every employee within the organization.  It may be easy to talk about customer satisfaction, but it's an entirely different story to effectively make it a fundamental part of an organization.

Most of us understand the concept of "customer satisfaction".  It's not rocket science.  We all know that it is important to create happy customers so that they will keep coming back. So every company proclaims this belief in their ads, on their walls, in their print material, and plastered down the sides of their vehicles. Unfortunately it is a concept that is more preached than it is practiced.

The acid test to determine if your organization is truly "customer oriented" is a determination of why your customers keep coming back?  Is it because they are truly satisfied with your service, or is it because they are getting the "lowest" price?  Or are they actually coming back at all? Truly satisfied customers will come back and happily pay a reasonable rate, even a premium rate.  Less satisfied customers who regard your service as ambivalent may come back only if they can get a better price from you than from the guy down the street. If they have suffered less than satisfactory service, or worse, a bad experience, they may not come back at any price.

There have been innumerable customer research studies in many fields through the years that identify very clearly why customers will loyally and repeatedly prefer to do business with the same company.  And it doesn’t matter what kind of business a company is in – restaurants, clothing stores, insurance, or the bus business. It’s all about how well a company is able to serve its customers.

And in the service industry, do not confuse what service is about. It’s not about having the newest buses or coaches, or frequency or range of schedules or destinations. One can easily operate even an elderly bus or coach model, provided that it is inviting – new paint, graphics, refurbished interiors, and impeccably clean; with a friendly, courteous, well-mannered uniformed driver, who always arrives at the departure point ahead of schedule, and consistently offering a memorable experience and a professional level of care.

What customers really want?
-     Reliability - Customers want services that are rendered dependably and accurately
-     Responsiveness - Needs that are met with speed and initiative
-     Assurance - Service providers that are knowledgeable, courteous, and trustworthy
-     Empathy - Customers want to feel important, individual, and treated with care

What Customers Remember? 
-     A consistently high level of service
-     A service that not just meets, but exceeds their expectations
-     The little things do count

No service or organization can run perfectly all the time.  In an imperfect world sometimes things go wrong.  When it does, how well is it handled?  First off every time something goes wrong it represents an opportunity!  Either it will be handled poorly, in which case the opportunity disappears, or it is handled with great care, diplomacy, and aplomb that will exceed a customer's expectations - in which case you have re-earned a customer.
An old customer is five times more valuable than a new customer!  You might think that all customers are equal in value in the eyes of customer oriented company, whether an existing customer or a new one. The cost in marketing and sales efforts to attract new customers is very high these days - about five times more expensive in fact than the cost of keeping an old customer.  And since a customer who leaves because of poor service tells nine other people about the poor service of that company, it can become very damaging over the long term. 
Therefore it's far more economical to invest your efforts in your current customers than the eternal and expensive struggle to replace lost and disenchanted customers with new ones.

To summarize:
How important is price?  It only becomes important if you have nothing else to offer!      

How important is customer service? It is the only factor in which you have any real degree of control and influence.  In a marketplace where half of those who switch companies do so because of poor service, then it becomes a significant opportunity to gain new customers and grow your business.