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There Really Is A Shortcut To The Top

I'll say it again. There really is a shortcut to success in business. Yes, anyone can do it who is willing to engage. No, you don't have to be particularly wise, strong or talented. You just have to be willing to follow a simple formula to get what you want. Read on to find out how some highly successful companies have climbed to the top -- and secured their place there -- using one simple principle

There's got to be an easier way! We've all heard that statement a million times. In fact -- if we're being honest -- we've all said it about that many times. From time immemorial in business we've been told there's no easy way, no free lunch, no shortcuts to success. You've got to pay your dues. You've got to put your nose to the grindstone and your shoulder to the wheel. You've got to come early and stay late. You've got to give more than the next person.

All of those statements are designed to help us remember it's hard work that pays off in business: that there's just no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and making it happen. And all of that is true. That's why these statements have resonated with so many people for so long.

But what about those businesses where the management and employees have paid their dues, have not expected to get something for nothing, have not taken anything for granted, have not taken any shortcuts and still aren't making it? How do they get ahead?

The key to success is building a relationship with the customer, plain and simple!

We used to call it customer service. The customer called or came into the store, and we helped them in some way that was beneficial to them. That was the model, and that's what people expected when they called or came in. Some companies were really good at helping customers and some weren't. But that's the way the game was played.

Today is different. In the era of social media and company and product reviews, just answering the phone isn't going to get it done. And even providing good service isn't going to do it, either. You've got to build a longer term relationship with the customer (and even with would-be customers) via what you do and what you say.

Let me give you a few examples of companies who understand building relationships with their clientele.

Vortex Optics

This one is so over-the-top it will blow you away. The other day a friend called and indicated he was looking for a scope for a new rifle he had purchased and asked if I had any recommendations. I told him I hadn't looked into it for awhile, but i'd see what I could find and call him back.

Top tier rifle scopes are all pretty much the same -- in terms of the quality of the glass -- if we're being honest. By top tier, I mean rifle scopes that cost upward of $2,500. So how do you differentiate? They have roughly the same quality of glass, the same features, the same type of followers (all of whom think there is nothing better than what they bought.)

So since they're so similar, I started looking at warranties. This is where you separate the men from the boys. German optics have always stood apart from the rest and have been widely considered the best. But go look at their warranty. They are warranted for 90 days to a year with enough disclaimers that whatever happens to your scope is your fault, and therefore. not covered under the warranty. Same with the Japanese. There's always a clause in the the warranty that disqualifies you from having any hope of getting a replacement.

Then there's Vortex. It's not a limited warranty. Not even a limited lifetime warranty. It's an UNLIMITED lifetime warranty. What does it cover? Anything and everything. They cover any defects in workmanship and materials of course, but they even cover things that aren't their fault. They cover everything that might conceivably happen for the life of the scope, no matter whether you bought it or it was a hand me down.

Vortex has gone so far as to post a video on their website of a guy who was wearing a very expensive pair of Vortex binoculars around his neck when he was kicked by a horse. The horses's hooves hit the binoculars and they were destroyed. Was something like that covered? Yup. In spades. Not only did they not hassle him in any way about how they got damaged, they understood it was hunting season and turned around a replacement pair in less than a week. And called him on the phone to make sure he got them and that he was happy in every way.

I had never bought anything from Vortex before I watched that video. I became committed to them on that day. I was one of their best customers, even though I'd never spent a penny with them. It's simple. I want to do business with someone I can have confidence in. Today I have several of their products. When I explained the warranty to my wife she said, "Why would anybody buy somewhere else?" She's right. You'd have to be mentally challenged to buy from anyone else. Their product is as good as you can get, price point for price point, and they're going to be there for you no matter what. No matter what. Can you even comprehend that?

So the lesson is, if you want me to be loyal to you, you're going to have to show some loyalty to me. That's reasonable, isn't it? I was a customer (and an advocate and an evangelist) of Vortex products long before I ever bought anything from them. Why? Because I want to do business with someone who will be as committed to me as they want me to be to them. Vortex is committed to their customers.

That's why they've gone from a startup in 2005 to the top optic used in the Long Range Shooters competitions in the USA today -- ahead of all the European optics manufacturers. Ten years to the top is absolutely unheard of. They've unseated European glass makers that have been in business for over 100 years to take over the number one position, and have done it convincingly.

Don't expect your customers to be committed to you if you haven't committed to them.


Patagonia understands customers the way Vortex does. In the mid '70s I was climbing in the Wyoming's Grand Tetons where I encountered Yvonne Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. He noticed that the sleeve of my Patagonia jacket was torn and encouraged me to send it in to get it fixed. I told him it wasn't a defect, that I had snagged the sleeve of the jacket on a branch while it was tied to my pack. He told me to send it anyway.

When the weather got cold enough to switch jackets, I sent the Patagonia back to the factory. Of course I told them the whole story with the founder, thinking that might get me a more sympathetic ear. Long story short, they gave me a new jacket and told me they didn't need the approval from the founder, as he'd already given that to everyone in the company and that they would be happy to help me anytime I had a problem with one of their products. No questions, no hassle. They knew it wasn't their fault and they replaced it anyway.

Again, I became an evangelist for Patagonia. Whenever I need outdoor wear, I check with Patagonia first to see if they have what I need. They were loyal to me. I will always be loyal to them. It's worth noting that this scenario happened over 40 years ago and I'm still sharing it -- to everyone who will listen.

That jacket cost $64. How much bang do you think they would have gotten out of a $64 ad in the magazine or a $64 spot on TV? But I speak to groups all over the world and I tell that story wherever I go. That $64 was the best "marketing" money they ever spent.

Even more important, while Patagonia used customer relations to get on top, it's remarkable how it has helped them to stay on top. That's the lesson. You can't forget the people who made you what you are today, or you won't be that tomorrow. Patagonia is still one of the most customer-centric companies on the planet, even today. They haven't forgotten their roots.

Buck Knives

Buck is another company that stands behind its product. In the '80s while selling sporting goods, one of the employees in the store was showing a customer how you could open a "jackknife" type knife with one hand. If you grip the blade just right, and make a quick flick of the wrist, the knife will open, the blade will lock and you're ready to go.

Well, in this case, the employee had a little gun oil on his hand, and when he flicked his wrist to open the knife, the blade slipped out of his hand and the knife went point-first into the concrete floor, breaking off the tip. We sent the knife back to Buck asking if we could get a new blade installed, explaining that it was our fault the knife was damaged. Two weeks later we had a brand new knife. No charge. They stand behind what they make.

How many times do you think that story was replayed when someone came in looking to buy a knife? It would be tremendous if it was just one story, but what about the compound effect? That story plays itself out day after day across the country and across the world. How many knife makers have come and gone in the last 50 years? Some of them had outstanding products. But they were gone before they even got started. For one reason -- service.


You might ask, "Why should those companies have to stand the cost of the carelessness of their customers?" They don't. That's the point. Nobody really expects them to, nor would any reasonable person feel they were obligated. That's the point! The service is above and beyond what any reasonable person could or would expect.

You might be thinking that there are people out there who abuse their kindness and generosity. Of course there are! There are people in the world who abuse others in every way without giving it a second thought. But, really, what percentage of the population is that? It's a very, very small percentage. The vast majority of people are reasonable and not looking to abuse anyone. They never have had any intention of taking advantage of anyone and all they ask is that you not take advantage of them. It's the golden rule -- treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Don't fall into the trap of letting the bad apples dictate your customer service and warranty policy. No matter how fussy you are, you can't protect yourself against those who are bent on abusing you. All you do is drive away those who would get on board and be customers for life. Letting the abusers dictate your response is a knee-jerk reaction. Hopefully you don't run your business that way.

Is there a cost for building customer relationships like these? Of course. Is it a huge cost? Maybe (probably not, but maybe.) But the real question isn't, "What is the cost of providing this level of customer care?" The real question is, "What is the cost of not providing great service?"

And while we're on the subject of cost, part of the problem is the accountants. Returns are accounted for on the P&L right under the sales line. Sales managers don't like it because it reduces the net sales. Production people don't like it because it makes it look like they aren't doing their job a producing a great product.

Perhaps the best way to account for returns that are taken care of with no questions asked, is to charge it to the marketing budget. Marketers can use those stories, just like Vortex did, to build their brand and increase their sales. While I don't disagree that returns of defective products should be subtracted from the top line, I think when the company does a customer a favor by replacing something that wasn't defective, it ought to be accounted for in the marketing budget. Just one way to look at it. Your mileage may vary.

To go back to the beginning, we live in the era of social media. You give away a pair of $1,000 binoculars (which, at your cost, are probably really only $250) to a customer who was personally responsible for the damage, and one week later thousands of people are talking about what a great company you are. You can't buy that kind of advertising at any price.

Well, unfortunately, the same thing applies when you don't take care of the customer. And you almost can't clean up that kind of mess with any amount of advertising. For some reason people love to post bad news. One customer care mis-step in today's world can have disastrous consequences.

Are you a company who is willing to do whatever it takes to build a life-long relationship with your customers? Are you doing it? It's not something you can do on a hit-or-miss basis. It's like being pregnant. You either are, or you aren't. The benefits of having customers who will follow you anywhere is incalculable. When you have a relationship of trust with them, they will stick with you through your darkest days. In order for that to happen, you have to bring them with you when you have your brightest days.

What do you think? Is that level of service necessary? Is it the shortest path to the top? Is it worth the price you'll inevitably pay? Let me know what you think.

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