Monday, November 17, 2008

The service of trash

Do you think of trash collection as a customer service activity? I think, in general, most folks are just happy to get their stuff hauled away and don't mind much about how it happens. However, if just one company raises the service bar a little bit, then suddenly the consumer takes notice.

For years and years I was with the same trash company in Colorado. During the summer, they left my cans (usually with the lids inside them -- gross) to fester out on the curb or in the street; during the winter they left them usually in the street with the lids wherever the dropped them (slightly less gross, but inconvenient if they were left upright with no lid and filled with snow). I just switched to the company that takes the extra 20 seconds to walk the trashcans with their lids in place and put them in front of my garage door. Not only are they a little less expensive, but they provide the extra customer service and recycling service for that less expensive price.

Most of the folks in my neighborhood are with the company that I just switched to, which means my former company had opportunities every week to show how much better they could be. Had it been me on that green truck, I would have made every effort to do better than the other guys -- every single time I picked up the trash, I would have not only returned the trashcans to the front of the garage, but I would have put them under an overhang when it was snowing.

What's really interesting is that the old green truck company had 2-3 people in the truck while the new company has only one guy -- from a resource perspective, it is much easier for the old company to provide a higher level of service than the new company, so they are consciously making an effort not to.

How much do you think it costs to provide this level of service? Bear in mind that the new company only has one guy working the truck, so if the old company pays their 3 guys $35,000.00 per year, the old company's cost is $105,000 in salaries plus another $26,000 in fringe (using around 25% for fringe). The new company probably pays their guy $50,000 plus another plus another $12,5000 for fringe; he's slower because he's alone and has to carry cans up driveways, but the lower throughput is more than made up for in the extra service and salary savings.

Here's something else that's silly: the old green company had a bunch of churn, had a bunch of guys that did not speak English, and had a set policy that their guys could not accept gifts of any kind, even during the Christmas holiday time. Compare that to the new company that has the same driver every week, that speaks English, that can be talked into taking some extra stuff, and is not restricted from taking gifts in return for special service.

Bottom-line: even if the new guys were a little more expensive, I probably would have changed to them anyway; the lower price is just a free prize.

Remember what Seth Godin said:

"Maybe the reason it seems that price is all you customers care about is . . . that you haven't given them anything else to care about."

Picture by Daniel Spillere Andrade

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