When his gloved hands were too far down my throat for me to answer, the dentist told me I needed a gum graft. “But I don’t do that,” he added, “You need to see a periodontist.” I nodded. And after I took care of my co-pay, I got the referral, made the appointment and went for the procedure.
Leaving the periodontist’s office with an ice pack on my face a few weeks later, I asked when I should go back to my dentist for my next cleaning.
“Don’t do that,” the periodontist replied, “You need to come back here for a deep clean. Only my office is equipped to do that properly.”
A few months later I got a postcard with a frowning clock’s face cartoon on it from my old dentist. “What time is too late to go to the dentist?” it asked. “Tooth-hurty.” But of course I didn’t need to see that dentist anymore because the periodontist’s office was now doing my cleanings.
Every four months a new card would show up from the dentist’s office. But after a year or two I noticed they stopped coming.
Here’s what I think happened: The dentist hired a new office manager who never got around to sending the reminder cards. Or maybe they hired a new I.T. manager who thought that the list should be purged of all the patients they hadn’t seen in more than a few years. Or perhaps their hard drive crashed and they simply lost their database of contacts.
What I know is that was the end of any continuing relationship (and revenue stream) between the dentist’s office and me. And whether the periodontist’s actions were Machiavellian or coincidental or simply routine is irrelevant. The dentist’s office lost a steady customer and all of the potential business they would have gotten from me – and my family and friends – over the years.
Now think about your business.
Do you have an efficient and effective system in place to keep in touch with your customers? Do you make the time and effort necessary to communicate with them and let them know why you matter in their life? Do you stay in touch because it’s convenient for you or because it’s convenient for them?
And when you haven’t heard from them for a while, do you find out why? More important, are you even aware that you haven’t heard from them in a while?
Because we’re so busy running our day-to-day businesses, many of us simply forget to manage our contact list. Often we assume that no news is good news and if our customers aren’t complaining then they must be happy.
But there’s got to be a reason why good businesses live by the old saw: “If you’re happy tell a friend; if you’re unhappy, tell us.”
One of my favorite TV commercials is a 1990’s United Airlines’ spot. In it, an exhausted business owner named Ben explains to his gathered staff that the firm’s oldest customer “…fired us. After 20 years he said he didn’t know us anymore.”
Ben goes on to explain that they used to do business with a handshake but nowadays “it’s a phone call and a fax” and that no one works face-to-face anymore.
“Well folks,” Ben sighs, “something’s got to change. That’s why we’re going to set out for a little face-to-face chat with every customer we have.”
As Ben’s assistant hands out airline tickets to everyone in the room, the voiceover says, “If you’re the kind of business that still believes that personal service deserves a lot more than lip service, welcome to United.” And when an employee asks the boss where he’s going, Ben answers, “to visit that old friend…who fired us this morning.”
There’s a whole lot to learn in this spot, about good filmmaking, good marketing and good customer service. You can watch it by clicking here: United Airlines
Then you can make even better use of your time by picking up the phone and calling the customer who could have fired you this morning.