Views from the Hills by R. E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail

Customer Satisfaction - It's all About Winning and Retaining Your Customers
(Some do it well while others don't)

Within the space of one week, I think I have uncovered the extremes of Customer Satisfaction.

Mr. Mike Zeman of Sorensen Associates sent me an article about Feargal Quinn, "The Pope of Customer Service."  Mr. Quinn is the owner of "Superquinn Supermarkets" in Ireland.  Mr. Quinn caters to his customers.  As he says, "the only way to judge your success is if the customer comes back.  I learned that if you look after getting repeat business, profit will largely take care of itself."  He calls this the "Boomerang Principle."  When faced with a business decision, he asks, "What will this do to help bring the customer back?"

His stores have the comforting aroma of baking bread.  His supermarket is the only grocery chain with a full-fledged bakery in every store.  His customers never purchase bread that is more than four hours old.  He even has produce delivered twice-daily.  His "farm-stand fresh" concept requires that each product product is marked with the TIME PICKED.  Every store contains a Superquinn Playhouse for children (a 20-year-old concept) staffed by professionals.  Superquinn Markets are known for their impeccable service.  He will even sacrifice profits for customer comfort such as removing candies from the checkout lanes to eliminate the discomfort of parents faced with a  child "kicking up blue murder."

There are many more examples of Mr. Quinn's thoughts on business practices but they will have to wait for another Views.  The point I want to make in this edition is the concept of Repeat Business.

Contrast the above with another extreme of Customer Service.  A company called "Passports" operating out of Spencer, Massachusetts.  This company specializes in, as they say, educational travel tours for high school and college students, their teachers and professors, and adults.  A student contacted me about my interest in writing about this company and his school.  It seems that his school's Spanish class was planning a tour to Spain and North Africa during spring break in March of 2002.  At the direction of the school, the students were to send in to the school a deposit of $395 by the first week of September 2001.  They did and on September 11, 2001, we had the World Trade Center destruction.  After much deliberation, the school and teacher decided to cancel their participation in the trip.  The school thought that since the planned trip was seven months away, Passports would refund the deposit.  Wrong.  Passports' position was that it plainly says if the student cancels, the student forfeits the deposit.  But the school maintained that they canceled, not the students.  Regardless, Passports maintained that the students can still go, however, there would be different chaperones, and most likely the North Africa portion would be canceled because of potential risk.  It should be noted that airlines were refunding ticket costs to people who decided not to fly at this time.  Also my wife and I went to Italy for two weeks in october.  Originally there were 39 scheduled to go and only 15 actually went.  We were told that the travel agency refunded the trip price in full since the airlines refunded their money.

Less than 48 hours after the teacher called to cancel the trip, Passports cashed the student's checks.  It appears that their position is legal, but is it ethical, moral or even a good business decision, considering how other companies handled similar situations at that time?

What did Passports have to gain and lose in their decision making?  They are balancing the gain of less than $5,000 and a negative "word of mouth" campaign against returning the deposits for no gain but a lot of goodwill.  Since it costs ten times as much to gain a new customer as it does to retain an old one, I think this would have been a no brainer.  But then again, I do not manage Passports.  Parents and students beware.  Even in very extenuating circumstances, some people refuse to budge when there is money involved.  A good friend had some good advice for me, "Treat your customers as if they are your neighbors."

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