"Ride your own bus" is an expression that means to experience your business environment in the same manner and under the same circumstances that your customers. It means trying to utilize your products and services under the same circumstances, attempting to do business with your company in the same manner, and looking at your company's policies and procedures in the same way your customers would look at them. Experiencing your customer's environment will give you a different perspective on how to improve your products and services as well as improve the business processes that establish the customer relationship.
As the story goes, in response to declining ridership and revenues the owner of a bus company decided to ride his own buses. What he saw was appalling. The buses were not clean and badly in need of repair. They ran behind schedule and the drivers were discourteous. As he struck up conversations with passengers, he discovered just how bad the bus service actually was. The passengers didn't feel safe, they were worried about reaching their destination on time, and were disgusted with the attitudes of the bus drivers. It was now obvious why ridership had declined. The business owner apparently made the necessary changes to turn things around and the story, as reported, had a happy ending.
Although the lesson to be learned by using the Savvy Strategy described in this story is clear, it is unfortunate that many entrepreneurs don't often receive the necessary feedback at the right time to remedy the customer's problem. I personally don't believe that many small and medium size business owners or the executives in a large company truly understand the customer's perception of the company's products and services, their policies for conducting business, or their employee's attitudes toward customer service.
As an example, several times I have personally called companies looking for information, only to be left on-hold for an inordinate amount of time, transferred several times to other departments, or have been cut-off. Frequently the employees of these companies made it clear that I was interrupting something that was more important, claimed it wasn't their job, or informed me that nobody was currently available to help. Promises of return phone calls never materialized nor did promises to send requested information. Even when I finally reached someone whose job it was to either resolve the problem or provide the correct information, they seemed to have neither the appropriate level of knowledge, nor the right customer service attitude. Invariably, this person had to receive permission from a higher authority before correcting the problem. Often times it appeared that doing the daily 'busy' work was far more important than responding to a customer's request. This is not the path to providing customer satisfaction and building customer loyalty.
It appears that some technological advances that were intended to make communication more efficient are having the just the opposite effect. Instead of improving the process, they are exacerbating the problem. Getting lost in the endless maze of voice mail options or finally getting to the right department only to connect to a voice mail message is quite frustrating. It seems that once you get 'locked in', the only way out is to 'hang-up' and call again while incurring the additional expense of another long distance phone call and wasted time. Because of numerous consumer complaints, some companies have removed their voice mail systems and replaced them with a human being. What a refreshing thought!
Why do these situations happen? I believe it is because business owners and executives have not taken "a ride on their own bus". They probably have never called their company's technical support center, had their car fixed in their company's repair shop, or called their company looking for product information. They perhaps have never ordered a product through their company's website, stood in line at their customer service department to return a deficient product, or used one of their company's Order Forms. Additionally, they most likely have never read their company's Service Agreement, Warranty, or Product Return Policy.
Try calling yourself using the same process a customer would use. In fact, go one step further and call your telephone system provider's information number just to determine how easy or how difficult it may be for a consumer to contact you. I believe it would be enlightening! Additionally, use your company's products in your own home and your place of business to actually determine if the products perform as promised. Try the products under many different conditions in the same way that a customer might utilize them. This experience may provide you with a very different perspective.
Try shopping in your own store or eating in your restaurant. If you have only one store or are easily recognized by your employees, have a 'secret' shopper evaluate your personnel, your methods of doing business, and your customer service policies. If you try to do this yourself, you may be biased by some of your own opinions or the employees that do recognize you will try extra hard to please you. This is not a real test. Have the secret shopper make both usual and unusual requests, have them return both damaged and undamaged merchandise, and have them be both pleasant and unpleasant to determine how your employees respond to this behavior.
Dissatisfied customers generally won't complain to you, but they will never be repeat customers. Instead, they will complain to their friends, relatives, and co-workers. This represents a large circle of influence and the potential for many lost customers. The customers that do complain are doing you a BIG, BIG favor. How you address their complaints will determine if they will continue to be your customers. Don't just address the specific problem, but also provide some extra product(s) or service(s). Turn this negative situation into one that creates a positive and lasting impression on your customer.
Use this as an opportunity to ask about other potential problems, their impressions of your employees, your product quality, and your customer service policies. This is a unique opportunity to conduct free market research. More importantly, this is the time to correct any problems before your reputation becomes tarnished. Once you have earned a negative reputation, it is very difficult, if not impossible to recover.
The Doctor, a 1991 film presented by Touchstone Pictures poignantly illustrates the concept of riding your own bus. A well known, high paid, and caustic surgeon is insensitive to his patients needs and concerns as he pushes them through a myriad of medical tests and eventual surgeries. The doctor is then diagnosed with throat cancer and is subjected to the very same kinds of insensitive treatment, administrative errors, inordinate amounts of time spent waiting in reception areas, short and curt answers, and being left in the dark regarding test results. After a frustrating treatment and recovery period, he realizes his error. When the doctor returns to his practice, he radically changes his philosophy to a more sensitive and empathetic manner. As part of his training responsibilities, he now requires that all new interns be subjected to many of the medical tests they will eventually be prescribing for their patients. This teaches the new surgeons empathy for their patients. Although it is only a story, it is a lesson that could well be learned by all business owners.
Savvy Strategy from this article:
Why do customers leave? There is always something that causes them to change their buying behavior. Perhaps it was a one-time event that caused the dissatisfaction or it could have been a series of mis-steps by the business over a period of time. Oftentimes you will never know the real reason why. The customer usually won't complain, but instead will just silently and quickly "fade" away. However, it is interesting to note that business owners have direct control of 91% and partial control of 96% of all the reasons why a customer might take their business elsewhere. How are the reasons below impacting your company?
Source of these percentages is unknown.
- 1% die.
- 3% move away.
- 5% follow a friend or relatives advice and changes.
- 9% switch due to a better price or product.
- 14% switch due to a product or service dissatisfaction.
68% switch due to a perceived feeling of indifference on the part of the owner or employees, not being appreciated for their business, being treated as unimportant, or just being taken for granted
Apply the Savvy Strategy of "Riding Your Own Bus" to your business before it is too late!
Take the Next Step! Where your business has been, or is today, is no longer important. What matters MOST is what comes NEXT! Take the next step on the road to growth and profitability by contacting us via (603) 642-8338 or email Jim O'Donnell for a No-Cost, No-Obligation conversation to discuss your company's opportunities.