Learning from a relationship specialist

Halla and I were discussing the state of the industry the other day, and she came up with some brilliant insights. You all know I steal most of the content of these columns, but Halla is a friend’s dog… so beware.

Halla takes issue with using the phrase “exceed expectations” in marketing. How can you exceed expectations without defining them in the first place? Many new entries tout “exceeding expectations” by providing clean, safe, modern equipment with trained, attentive drivers. They arrive on time and treat customers well.

You know… like the GBB’s (Great Big Buslines) did for decades.

Most of you actually do those things today, but how have we gotten to the point where the public’s expectations are exceeded when we just do our job?

Hang on… gonna pivot here.

One modern trend is to build and cherish digital presence—an outstanding website and lots of activity on social media. Truth is, you have to do those things, BUT we all know terrible companies that have great websites. Anyone with money can buy a bat, but that doesn’t make them Babe Ruth. The public understands that funding a great digital footprint doesn’t equate with competent performance.

Internet presence is a tool, not a goal. The real goal is increased business and, at least in Halla’s view, that is achieved by building relationships.

I go to a particular Dunkin’ Donuts because I like the folks who work there. The location isn’t always the most convenient, but it’s worth a few extra minutes. They don’t even have chocolate iced coffee rolls, a necessary component to maintaining my magnificent physique.

Everyone has places they frequent because of relationships with the staff. One way out of our current malaise is to build real relationships with customers. If they value us, they will value our product.

That’s a corporate culture thing. I haven’t a clue who owns the Dunkin, but I do know the kids who make my coffee.

While it’s nice if clients feel they have the ear of top management, the relationships that determine repeat business are with drivers and the office folks who serve them directly.

That attitude has to saturate everything we do. Good equipment and reliable service ought to be a given. Employees who engage customers are just as much a part of the service we offer. For some that comes easily but for folks who find it difficult… it’s still part of the job. Those skills can be learned.

Internet presence is a bit like a coach’s pre-game talk: sets up expectations, but the real stuff takes place on the field. After a rousing locker room speech Baltimore Colts Coach Weeb Eubank turned to John Unitas and asked if he wanted to add anything.

Unitas, a great philosopher, said “Talk’s cheap… let’s play.” A great speech ain’t diddly without real performance.

In order to thrive as an industry, we need to be valued by our customers and that will only happen if we build genuine relationships. If Dunkin’ Donuts can do it, surely we can.

If someone expects sad buses and surly drivers… that’s easy. Attentive, reliable service, great coaches and reasonable amenities should be givens, not “exceeding expectations.”

Halla told me that if quality is to be appreciated by customers, it will be in large measure because the operator’s people won their hearts. We shouldn’t “exceed” expectations, we should raise them, in part by getting our people to buy into building relationships.

It feels a bit strange writing a column using stuff I learned from a dog… but gee whiz, is ANYONE better at building relationships?


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