Not Accepting the “New Norm”

Monday, December 19, 2016


Strange how perceptions change...Just three, four years back, we were emerging from "The Great Recession." Customers started to come back, sales were being made, new homes were being built..."There was light at the end of the tunnel"! We welcomed and coped with the growing business, giving our customers the "Royal Treatment." Yet now the situation has changed to the point where some days it seems we're just a bit "Over-Customer'd." We just can't quite get done what we need to do by day's end. And some customers are getting "Cranky" again! "Why didn't you call me back like you promised?" Or, "You promised you'd have that order out by 11:00--it was three thirty when your driver showed up, and I had to send the crew home early!" Or, "I emailed you four times, to finally get a response from you!" And it goes on...Sadly, "We ain't perfect." And one of the biggest problems is how we need to hire more people, but can’t find any. The industry was kind of "gutted out" when the Recession lasted way too long! So, we're struggling, but getting by. And maybe I could say, "We get it right...most of the time!"

Yes, you can tell that I'm frustrated. And it's easy to "excuse" some of it…Many of the Builders that just barely made it through the Recession are struggling just as mightily as we are. So...Welcome to the "New Norm." As I talk to our Profit Center team leaders, they all share the frustration. So, why "the rant"? In my world, I always try to look four, five or more years down the road…And that's where I came up with a "reality check"…Somewhere down the road, this stronger business climate will change, and we'll be struggling again, looking hard for that next sale. No sense in commenting about the "Cycles" in our business. They're real and occur...time and again.

So, during our last meeting with all our Profit Center leaders, I talked at length about this, and more importantly, how we must "up our Service game"! What came out of that meeting (first of many to follow) was a commitment that "Service"...I mean "REAL Service"…is going to play a huge role as we move forward. Highlights of some of the things we discussed: When we hire, to talk at length to the new hire about our "Service Culture” which will be stressed from the start. We are also working to have in place a way to "Empower" our Associates more than ever before. For example, when we have a customer problem with a monetary value of say three hundred dollars (just a number I picked), wouldn't it be better for a truck driver or counter person to solve it right there--rather than going through various chains of command to get a resolution? Waiting for a chain of command to approve a resolution ultimately just ticks off the customer. It’s all part of the “REAL Service” theme we're going to develop, that gets all our Associates (at all levels) "To Take Ownership" of the customer.

“To Take Ownership” means that once a quote or order process is started, whoever dealt with the customer at the beginning will "Own" that customer/situation until a satisfactory conclusion is reached. The reality is once a process is started with a customer and they're "Passed On" to someone else or some other department, often times the customer/process falls through the cracks...and you have no one who has taken the responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen. That original "Owner" must make sure that at the end, the customer had a satisfactory experience. Another area is simple "Problem Solving" of any kind, whether it is a credit issue, pricing issue (bet you never have those...LOL!), anything. We must solve those issues at about the speed of light...No more sitting with the credit manager, four months after a customer refused to pay an invoice, and finally with an upset customer, doing something about it. At that point, chances are that nobody is happy.

It isn’t easy to consistently maintain “REAL service,” but we all know just how worth the effort it is. So in those cases where a customer problem drags on, we'll start to solve it by sharing our issues/problems with the entire group. Everyone must know what the problem was, and most importantly, how it was handled. And here's another one. Constant feedback from our customers...Simple as "How are we doing?" "What can we do to make your buying experience even better?”

At Kimal we’re going to create a common theme...An understanding between the entire company, at every level, that says "We strive to do it better than anyone else." As this "New" program progresses, I'll share with you how it's working...or not. I'll end with this...Kind of a "Legacy" thing...Hate to be four or five years down the road, and have the economy go "South" again, and know that we just never quite got our act together through those good times...I want our team to be remembered as the folks that "Really Got It Right" when times were good.

Al E. Bavry, CEO, Kimal Lumber & Hardware 12/19/2016

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