Customer Service? NOT!

Volume 136, No. 40  - Friday, March 30, 2012

Everyone talks customer service. The customer is always right, right?

Well, let’s think about that. What do we really mean when we say customer service?You can hold the pickles, and you can hold the lettuce, but you still have to take a hamburger. You can choose a red, or a blue, but you still have to choose a Ford or a Toyota.

The real purpose of customer service is to take the overwhelming variety of things customers are looking for, and filter and redirect them towards those items we can make and make money from. It’s not about giving people what they want, never has been; it’s about leading them to what is possible.

So where does real customer “Service” come into play? If it happens at all, it has to happen long before any of your products are sold, way upstream from what we call our customer service representatives, starting at the stage of initial planning. It has much more to do with strategic marketing, and product design, than the conventional concept of marketing and sales.

In our industry, unlike even a few years ago, there is so much available to consumers that the old trick of using advertising to create a false need and compel them to buy simply doesn’t work, and to survive, companies must deliver the things people truly want.

Most companies design a product, figure out how to manufacture it, manufacture it, and sell it, but rarely invest resources in knowing why does it sell? What do people like about it? What would they like to see changed? How do they use it? Who is buying it? What else would they buy if it was available? And how much would they pay?

These are questions that should be asked before the design manufacture and sale and repeated continuously to try to really understand not only what the customer wants, but what they would want that they don’t even yet know exists. The only way to do this is through investigative, or market surveys. It is the only dependable way to look outside-in.

It’s not enough to make a great product, it has to be product that people want and a product that you can make economically, with little waste, fast production, fewer and fewer defects, good methods and techniques, with a high level of safety, and agreement between you, the producer, and those who buy on product quality.

Even more than this your product must be useful. The design and quality must suit the purpose, not only for the end-user but in transport, storage, repacking, appearance on the shelf, ease of opening, and any other step along the road from the producer to the end-user. If you don’t find out what people want at any stage along this road, no amount of promotional money or slotting allowance will succeed.

Product must match the market, it needs to be adapted to the market it is being sold to. Whether product quality is too high or too low, you run into problems. When quality is too high for the market, the price is too high, and only a limited number of people can afford to purchase it. On the other hand, if the quality is too low, no matter how cheap it is, people won’t buy it again; over the long-term, your business will go down

Marketing surveys should come into play at every stage, and you must have someone in the company who understands how to do them, and even, perhaps a good statistical consultant familiar with sampling research, because:

• At the 1st stage, Design, you must conduct market surveys to help in your planning, the aim of which is to balance what you can make profitably with what buyers want. And you have to test this. You must perfect your manufacturing methods and ensure a good supply of the right raw materials.

• At the 2nd stage of manufacturing, good product quality, and uniformity of product quality are important. This means that by the time of shipping, you will be able to deliver consistently! The use of statistical techniques of inspection of samples, and talking to everyone touched in the chain of distribution, through formal and informal marketing surveys, is essential here.

Most companies design a product, figure out how to manufacture it, manufacture it, and sell it, but rarely invest resources in knowing why does it sell?

• At the 3rd stage sales, the ultimate reality test, it is not enough to make the sale, you need to understand why, what got them to buy. If you only respond to orders, you are already on your way out of business.

• And at the last stage, you begin all over again, and use what you have learned to improve your cheese’s quality, usefulness and attractiveness according to what the people who buy it want, and/or need.

Anything else is gambling, and then when your so-called “Customer Service” gatekeepers direct the variety of customer desires towards those things you can actually produce and make a profit from, there is a much better chance you will have a match, and that my loyal readers, is an essential key to long term success. DS

Dan Strongin is managing partner and owner of Edible Solutions, a consulting company focused on helping companies making great food make a profit. He will be writing a monthly column in Cheese Reporter. Strongin can be reached via phone at (510) 224-0493, or via e-mail at You can visit and blog with Dan at


Other Strongin Articles written for Cheese Reporter

dot Collaboration: The Road To A Better Future
dot Resolution
dot Water

dot In Memoriam: Ignazio Vella 1928-2011
dot Of Cheese, Seals, And Deming
dot In Their Own Words: Lettie Kilmoyer
dot In Their Own Words: Fritz Maytag
dot In Their Own Words: Paula Lambert
dot Show Me the Money: Cost Accounting
dot Cost Accounting Chokes, Part 2: Inventory

dot Cost Accounting Is Choking Your Business, Part 1
dot It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over
dot Raw Reason
dot A Story For The Holiday Season, Part II
dot A Story For The Holiday Season
dot Truth In Labeling
dot This Too Shall Pass or "What were we thinking?"
dot Marketing Language That Resonates
dot When Will We Ever Learn?
dot Cheese Competitions In The Context Of Marketing

dot Economy
dot Even The Best Laid Plans Go Astray
dot Root Causes: Communication
dot Partners
dot Diamond Cutting:
It's What You Don't Know That Can Hurt You
dot Integrity and Ethics
dot Pricing:  The Perceived Value
Designing the Effective Sell Sheet
Common Sense
It All Begins in The Mouth
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The Gathering Storm
As Our Industry Evolves, So Should Our Terminology:

Other Cheese Reporter Guest Columnists
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