PVF wholesalers can learn how to improve customer loyalty from the fast-food giant.

I love McDonald’s.

No, they do not have the greatest hamburgers, and those “triple thick shakes” are downright odd. Is there any milk in there? Or just soy product? Their coffee actually sucks. But they are having another banner year because they do what they do so well - and there is something to be learned here.

So let’s start off with the trick question I ask my students in a marketing strategy class every year. What does McDonald’s sell? Or to be more precise, what do they sell better than anyone else that makes them so successful? Usually a few hands go up. “Hamburgers,” someone volunteers. Another student calls out, “Fast food.”  Nope. That’s not it.

Most anywhere you find a McDonald’s there is a place nearby that sells better burgers, coffee or shakes. So people don’t go to McDonald’s because it offers the best food or drinks. They go for something much more important: Consistency, predictability. After about the age of 10 people really don’t like surprises (not even on their birthday). We like to know what we are going to get before we get it - even if we know we are going to get mediocre hamburgers, so-so salads and really bad coffee.  That’s what McDonald’s sells. No matter where you are, you knowwith certaintywhat the eating area will look like, what’s on the menu, what it will cost, how long it will take to get your order processed, what the burger will taste like.

The product is low-tech. Anybody can make a hamburger. In fact, most anyone can make one that tastes better than McDonald’s. McDonald’s has no patents, no trade secrets. Their work force is typically an unskilled, inexperienced, high-turnover crowd.

And yet, McDonald’s is remarkably consistent - in product and service.  This consistency drives their business (their stock is up these last 12 months).

What can we here in the PVF business learn from McDonald’s? There are more similarities than you might think.

Your customers can buy the same or equivalent valves at any of a number of places. Your warehouse has no patents or trade secrets. The warehouse workforce is often a low-skilled, high-turnover population. And what do your customers want? Why do they come to you?  For the very same reasons they go to McDonald’s: They are looking for consistency and predictability. They want the certainty that their PVF purchase will arrive on time, the quality will be good, the certifications and paperwork will all be in order, the bill will have the same look and feel, the terms will be the same, the inside sales guy will be the same guy with whom they have spoken for years.

The more you can do to deliver the repeatable comfort factor - the “I, the customer, know exactly what I am getting; I know the how, when, where and why of what I am getting; I know I will get no surprises.” - the more repeat business you will get. The occasional bad customer service experience will wipe out years of loyalty and totally throw a spanner into the mix. Even with breadth and depth of inventory, great prices, etc., if the customer feels he might get “surprised” somewhere down the line he will dump you.  Remember, McDonald’s isn’t successful because they make the best burger or a great cup of coffee. They keep customers coming back again and again because they are so, so consistent.