CUSTOMER SERVICE

A Business Lesson from Down Under

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"No Worries."

The one phrase I heard most often on my recent trip to Australia was, without question, "No Worries." Whenever I asked someone for help -- whether a hotel clerk, waiter, or just a person on the street, they'd cheerfully reply, "No worries." That two-word sentence seems to be the Australian national motto.

What a nice change from "Would you like fries with that?" which seems to be America's national motto.

Throughout my stay in the land down under, I was repeatedly struck by the absence of what retailers call "upselling." When I was eating in a restaurant, waiters never pushed drinks or dessert; when asked, resort staff informed me about recreation options but never in the continually obtrusive manner I've encountered in American resorts. And here's something almost unbelievable: There's no tipping! When I wanted to tip an Aussie cab driver -- who'd already been paid a flat fee -- for driving us an additional way and making an unscheduled stop, I almost had to argue with him to take my tip.

The result was refreshing. At a restaurant, I could relax and enjoy my meal without having to hear an ad for other menu items. At stores, I could ask for recommendations without worrying I was only being shown the most expensive choices, or the ones the clerk was getting paid an extra fee by the manufacturer for selling (a practice often common in large retail chains in America).

I am well aware that it's good business practice to try to increase "yield" from each customer. I advocate it myself in this column. After all, it's much more expensive to get a new customer than it is to get additional revenue from existing customers. But perhaps America as a whole has become too sales savvy for our own good, and we could take a lesson from the Australians.

Perhaps we should stop selling all the time. As customers, we've all gotten so used to the constant bombardment of sales pitches, that we don't realize how many times we instinctively just respond, "No thank you," while our respect for the company subconsciously diminishes. Our salespeople, too, have gotten tired of always having to push additional products or services. Let's give it a rest.

In the business world today, one of the most valuable assets a company can develop is a "trust relationship" with their customers. When a customer trusts and likes you, they' re more likely to continue to do business with you, refer others to you, and stick with you even when new competition enters the market. But trust also comes from every interaction a customer has with a business, and if each interaction comes with a sales pitch, after a while, it slowly erodes that trust relationship.

The week after I returned from Australia, for example, I went to a restaurant with a friend. After we had each ordered only small salads with the dressing on the side, the waitress asked if we'd like to order their pesto pizza. When we laughed, pointing out our obviously low-calorie choices, she told us that she was required to tell every customer about the pizza. Such sales techniques don't build ongoing relationships.

The unbelievably friendly Aussies seemed to just have a much more laid back attitude about everything, and that extended to their sales technique and dealings with customers. If they were there to give you a guided tour or serve you a meal, they just pleasantly helped you, without turning it into another sales opportunity. They took more time to chat, tell stories, ask about you. The downside was you had better not be in a hurry -- they didn't rush. The upside was you felt good about them. And they definitely made me want to return!

So, perhaps it's time to take a break from constant upselling. While it's nice to get more dollars from each customer, perhaps we don't have to get more dollars from each *interaction* with every customer. Let's look for the long-term relationship instead. Let's find ways our customers can honestly trust us. That way, when they think about doing business with us, they know they'll have "no worries."

Copyright © Rhonda Abrams, 2001


Rhonda Abrams writes the nation's most widely read small-business column. Her newest book, The Successful Business Organizer, has just been released. For free business tips from Rhonda, register at www.RhondaWorks.comor write her at 555 Bryant St, number 180, Palo Alto, CA 94301.

Last updated: Aug 16, 2001




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