As a partner in a fledgling communications company, you will not be shocked to learn that I regard a strong profile, a clear message and a professional approach as key to organisational and business success.
And the best possible attitude to customer relations is, in turn, crucial to the latter.
Replacing my VANBAR associates hat with my man-in-the-street hoodie (which I'm just about young enough to get away with - just), this week I've experienced stark contrasts in how high up the list of priorities good customer relations are for some firms.
Let's start at the top with Specsavers. I've worn contact lenses since my late teenage years and have been through several different suppliers. But Specsavers are in a different league. From getting an appointment, to having an eye examination, to needing a bit of help with broken glasses or ripped lenses; nothing ever seems like too much trouble for its staff and, more often than not, encounters can be fun. A couple of days ago, I ran out of solution and my quarterly lens pack had not yet arrived in the post. It wasn't late, I'd just used more solution than normal. So I called in to buy some more. The nice lady asked me to go and sit down and, two minutes later, she returned with a free bottle of solution, a joke and a smile. First class.
Fast forward to this morning when I was at Leeds Bradford airport to catch the red-eye flight to Belfast. I was a bit early and hadn't eaten so, on a whim, called into Burger King in departures. I had no idea what I wanted - and was still half-asleep - so the little guy at the counter advised that I had all the time in the world to decide (flight departure time permitting). I eventually chose, he took my cash and said he'd bring it to my table, which he did very shortly afterwards. Some might say 'so what?' or 'he's only doing his job' but it set me off on the right foot for what is destined to be a very long day. Proper - and sincere - customer relations, for which I was grateful.
The contrast arrives in the form of gym chain LA Fitness. My 'get fit' activities have for some years centred almost exclusively on running. One London Marathon, six half-marathons and dozens of 10k races have been my focus with a few quid raised for charity along the way. But the required long training runs have started to get to me. Plus, just running all the time only leaves you with a certain type of conditioning. So I gave thought to joining the local LA Fitness where Vanessa is already a member.
When I mentioned my plan to her, she very kindly offered to 'refer' me, thereby qualifying for a £100 holiday voucher. Excellent. I filled in all the forms, paid my first fee and got on with it. That was in the middle of last month. But Vanessa did not receive her promised voucher. I mentioned this to a member of staff when I was in for a workout who said that the voucher would be issued at the end of the month instead. Fair enough, so I got on with my sit-ups. But no voucher came.
So Vanessa emailed the gym last week. No response. I phoned national member support on Tuesday to find out what was going on. I was told coldly that the offer was no longer on. I advised the lady that it was and read out from a flyer I'd picked up earlier to confirm this. She told me to send an email. It didn't receive a response. So I emailed again the next day, both member support and the local gym. No response from either. Vanessa did the same. No responses.
By yesterday morning, I was becoming quite annoyed and decided it was time to take the public route. I sent a tweet to member support. They swiftly responded to ask where I'd sent my emails. I told them. As I write, I am yet to receive an email response although I understand from Vanessa that a voucher has now arrived through our letter box. No covering note.
I can see no logic in the approach LA Fitness has taken on all of this and, were I now not locked into a 12-month contract, I would certainly be seeking to take my business elsewhere.
I'll end where I began - good customer relations are of utmost importance. And, referring back to my experiences in Specsavers and Burger King, they should also be seen as genuine. Sadly, LA Fitness has institutionally failed on both.