By , published on 17th March 2011

So when was the last time you said ‘Wow!’ about the quality of customer service you received?

My guess is you are thinking the exact opposite, especially during a holiday break, when civilization in the UK seems to grind to a complete halt. Perhaps you were fuming at the state of the rail network; perhaps, like me, you are waiting for your dentist to amble back to work somewhere around the second week in January; you might even still be trying to arrange delivery of some Christmas presents ordered over the internet.

You have two alternatives in the face of this. One is to slump into a Victor Meldrew–like state of resigned desperation and look for an alternative supplier. The other is to consider the glass to be half full, learn from these appalling examples of customer service and do the opposite: put the ‘Wow!’ back into your existing business. You can even do this if you are just an employee. It may not make you rich, but you’ll have a lot more fun.

This is the manifesto of the inimitable Paul Dunn, a serially successful entrepreneur. Paul has tried to retire several times but cannot seem to stop himself getting involved in new and interesting things. He is much in demand as a speaker, and focuses on getting people and organisations to improve their products and services so that at the end of the experience the customer says “Wow!”.

This is far too important to leave just in the hands of your marketing department. However big your company, people buy from people. They also stop buying from rude and aggressive people: customer service problems tend to stem from individual members of staff with negative attitudes rather than flaws in abstract marketing processes. So you must get these individuals trained up.

Much more common, however, are people who are fantastic at customer service, but buried below layers of management so nobody actually sees the great things they are doing. Treasure these people; learn from them; they will show you how to improve your ‘Wow!’ factor.

When I give workshops in large companies instilling the entrepreneurial mindset, ‘Wow!’ ideas soon start flowing. These come from everybody, not just the extroverts. The best ideas often come from the quiet ones who observe, reflect and consider before making their contribution.

In larger companies there is always a paradox.

A structured organisation requires processes and rules, and these are the natural enemies of innovation. Common complaints are “nobody actually listens to us” and “we can’t make a difference”.

In small companies (which we define in our Beermat model to be fewer than 20 employees) this is rarely a problem. The tribal nature of the organisation lends itself to regular social gatherings, where all sorts of ideas are kicked around. The skill of the entrepreneur lies in choosing which ones really have commercial magic and which ones just sound good.

I asked Paul about his own current personal ‘Wow!’ It’s a very simple concept: ‘Buy One, GIVE One Free’. What if every time a Plasma TV was sold, a blind person got the gift of sight? What if every time a book was sold, a tree was planted? What if every time someone dined out, a hungry kid was fed?

Paul Dunn is applying a social purpose to consumerism, and everybody wins. Wow!

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Mike Southon

About Mike Southon

Mike Southon is a Financial Times columnist, entrepreneur mentor, professional speaker and co-author of 'The Beermat Entrepreneur'. Mike's new book is: 'This is How Yoodoo It' - Sixty FT columns on entrepreneurship

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