Tim Williams of FileWave shares an important business lesson he learned from a suitcase salesman.
About 25 years ago, I was returning from a business trip and retrieving my hard-sided rolling suitcase from the baggage claim belt. I was stunned to see one of the wheels had broken off and was carefully set on top of the suitcase. The commercials showed these indestructible bags being thrown around a cage by a gorilla, but it was no match for airline baggage handling. I tugged it off the belt, grabbing the loose wheel and shoving it in my pocket.
A man I recognized from my flight walked over, handed me his business card and said, "I have no idea what they did to that bag, and the airline should fix it for you. But if they don't, we will."
I thanked him as I looked at his card. He worked for the bag's manufacturer.
I couldn't believe he'd volunteered his identity as an employee at the very moment I had every reason to believe his company made defective products. Despite the damage – the incontrovertible failure of the suitcase – he was certain it was not his company's fault, yet confident that his company would back up their guarantee.
It's been years since I used that suitcase – it may still be up in the attic – but I'll always remember that fellow who gave me his card.
I've been in the software business for many years. In our industry, nobody can promise a 100 percent error-free experience, but we all promise to correct any bugs in our products. It can be frustrating at times to field calls and troubleshoot issues only to find out the root cause is a conflict in another vendor's software or an incorrect network or device configuration.
It can be tempting to declare, "Aha! It's not our fault!" and close the ticket. But what I learned from that luggage executive is that technical support isn't just about the product, and customer service isn't only the responsibility of those who field the calls and emails.
The luggage manufacturer's customers weren't just buying suitcases, and our customers aren't just buying software. We all buy solutions to our problems – it isn't about the suitcase; it's about the guy who needs to get his belongings home without spraining his shoulder.
My company, FileWave, creates solutions for IT departments; but in the end, the business of our users isn't IT. Their business is education, insurance, transportation or communication. Their business is the business, and our software enables the productivity of users. When our customers can't do their jobs, it hurts their whole business. To solve their problems, we can't just focus on the bug; we must focus on the customer.
My suitcase salesman wasn't trying to close a deal when he approached me in that airport. He wasn't a showboating executive. He was a guy who went to an office every day, just doing his job.
But he believed. And even though I have never had another suitcase break in baggage handling, I still associate that brand with the highest quality and integrity because of him.
Is that the result of product quality? Certainly, that is an important component, but no amount of quality control can anticipate all the challenges of the real world. Companies can't just back up their products – they have to back up their customers. They can't just point fingers and move on – they have to work together to solve problems.
"Customers first" can't just be a slogan. It needs to be part of the company culture; a core belief of every employee, not just the ones answering phones in customer support.
Employees are committed when they know their company is committed. That's an ethic, mindset, and culture I've carried with me over the years, and I'm proud to be part of FileWave, a company that has fostered that culture since the day it was founded.
Edited by Sammi Caramela.