Truth #4: You must manage your customers

Your service customers “work” for you in many of the same ways your employees do, so you need to manage their behavior strategically. Design a system that sets up your customers to succeed operationally.

left dishes in restaurantCase Study: Bugs Burger Bug Killers (BBBK)

In an industry where competitors only promised to do their best, BBBK became a sensation by guaranteeing complete customer satisfaction. But it meant that everyone, particularly clients, had to work a lot harder.

To say that customer-operators were central to the value proposition at Bugs Burger Bug Killers is almost a laughable understatement. That radical guarantee of complete pest elimination? It would have been empty without customers who were willing to toil alongside the company to ensure that their own restaurants, hotels, and apartment buildings were highly inhospitable to critters.

In order to deliver uncommon service, BBBK needed its customers to not just work hard, but also to perform difficult steps in the company’s rigorous antibug protocol. And so the company pulled out all the stops to keep its customers on point. Before the very first service visit, customers had to agree in writing to a strict cleanup regimen. No agreement, no deal—it was a powerful customer-selection tool. Next, the company developed a specific action plan for each client.

This plan often involved more frequent cleanups, radical changes in trash management, and not-so-cheap repairs to the building and surrounding site. If customers did not cooperate, they were fined. If they still didn’t cooperate, they were unceremoniously dropped. As Bugs himself declared over and over again, “We don’t want to do business with them.”

Customer training was a central part of the service specialist’s role. BBBK employees spent as much time as needed with the client to make sure the protocol and action plan were clear. Early site visits were as much about coaching customers as treating the facility. A typical learning moment for a client went something like this: a BBBK team would throw any piles of junk it found onto the middle of a client’s floor, then place a sign on the pile: “Sorry for the Mess.” And then the real learning occurred. When a customer approached the sign, he or she would find the following message: “Please accept my apology for the mess I made. I had to make the choice of doing one of two things. (1) Leave things as they were, cluttered and dirty, allowing roaches or rodents to infest your establishment again; or (2) Break up the breeding area. I chose number two because I know you don’t want to lose our guarantees and have an infestation of roaches or rodents again.”

The demands that BBBK placed on its customer-operators were unprecedented in the bug business—or in any other business we’ve studied, at least for sheer degree of difficulty. The Washington Post documented a BBBK intervention for one D.C. customer: “Preparing for Burger’s bug men was almost like getting ready for a visit from a mother-in-law who would be sure to find any speck of dust. The aftermath was also exhausting: three people spend five hours mopping up filmy pesticide residue and putting the place back together.”  For many clients, BBBK’s process also meant lost operating hours during the initial cleanup phase, which could sometimes be measured in days. But there was no other route to excellence. It turns out that customers who wanted the best were more than willing to do their part.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012