Being a paramedic during the formative years of my working life, I’ve been surprised at how many of the lessons that I learned on the job have translated to the business world.
An encounter with EMS is generally a life-changing one. The actions of the various teammates across agencies can make a profound impression. In the chaos of an emergency, the need to be brief and direct can come off poorly, and people can walk away with a negative impression. Plus, grind towards burnout that many EMS workers face can lead towards a reduced focus on the softer skills with patients and inter-agency. These bad impressions can result in lost business as resentment builds. As paramedics, we were constantly reminded that we effectively drove giant billboards and that we were under scrutiny every time we interacted with anyone while we were in uniform. As one of my reminders to provide not just the best medical care, but to provide it with empathy and kindness, one rule I set for myself was that every patient got a pillow and a blanket (unless medical necessity prevented, of course). That little touch made a huge difference in how my care was perceived.
Customer service is an issue affecting businesses across the country. Complaints are climbing, negative experiences are more frequent, and sales are suffering – in 2014 the estimated loss in business was $41B. Customers are willing to cut ties with a brand over a single bad experience, whether online or physical. Most purchases are made based on customer perception of the experience, and more than half is willing to pay more for good customer experience.
Yet, for so many businesses, the trend is away from providing excellent service. With the never-ending focus on cutting costs, the things that differentiate a business and make its customers want to buy from them are removed in the name of savings. The fallacious belief that there is an endless supply of customers waiting to purchase a product or service helps to facilitate these decisions to cut costs. The smart business owner must ask her/himself: have I really cut costs when I’ve lost a customer as a result?
If we believe the research that indicates that it’s 5-25 times costlier to acquire a customer than to keep one, and that a 5% increase in customer retention rates results in profit increases of 25-95%, we begin to understand how much those cost-cutting measures must really save to have a positive ROI. Obviously, business efficiency is important – nobody would argue otherwise. However, simply cutting what are perceived as extraneous costs without a real evaluation of the impacts to customer service can result in a significant negative impact on the business in the longer term. Sometimes it’s better to spend a little on that pillow and blanket – they’re extra costs, but the return is substantial.