Thursday, January 8, 2009

Customer service? What's that?

Remember way back when the philosophy of any business -- at least any that wanted to stay in business -- was that the customer is always right? Boy oh boy, are those days gone! And sadly, these are exactly the times that call for improved customer service, when every single customer really counts and can potentially make the difference between keeping the doors open and bankruptcy. Wouldn't you think someone would have mentioned that to store managers? Apparently not.

Yesterday I made a trek to a store, which shall remain nameless mainly because this could have happened in any store, and all stores should take note. I had a list, which is rare enough for me. After accumulating all but two things on my list, I headed for check out. There were maybe four lines open, so I got behind a young couple in one of them and waited to begin putting my items on the conveyor.

As the clerk finished up with the couple, I started unloading my cart. The clerk turned off her register and announced she was leaving. For about ten seconds I just stared at her, then announced that I was leaving, too, and walked out leaving probably $50-75 worth of merchandise sitting there...some on the conveyor belt, some in the cart.

Now that's not a huge sale. It may not hurt their bottom line. But it also will cost employee time to restock all those items. And, the part the manager may never know about is that I am now planning to sell my stock in that particular company, because I have had one too many similar experiences in that exact same store. Ironically just the day before I had told my broker not to sell, despite their recommendation. Today, I've changed my mind. That's why customer service to each and every person who walks through the door is critical. The clerk and manager can't possibly know the ripple effect that one careless action may have.

It's not that I'll sell my stock and the next person might not own stock. That next customer may have friends who shop there and will spread the word about how they were treated. Pretty soon not just one, but dozens of people stop coming. And management at the national level will start wondering why same store sales are declining in that location. In these tough economic times, there's not a store of any kind that can afford to lose even one customer, especially one who spends as much as I do there over the course of a year.

So, take heed. As a customer, don't just grin and bear it when service is rude or non-existent. Take your business elsewhere. There are plenty of other places to buy almost everything, places where the managers and clerks know that without you their jobs are on the line, places where you will be treated with courtesy and respect.

Managers, you need to take heed as well. Corporate culture starts with you. If you insist on good customer service, that message will filter down and be carried out. Jobs these days are too scarce and good people who need them too plentiful to tolerate anything less than outstanding treatment of every customer who walks in the door.

My very favorite customer service story happened years ago to a friend of mine who was shopping for shoes at Nordstrom. I'd been waiting for her in the mall and decided to wander inside, where I found her walking around in the shoe department while frantic employees hunted for her shoe. She'd taken it off to try on a sample shoe and some zealous employee had dutifully picked it up and taken it . . . somewhere. It couldn't be found. The manager arrived in the midst of the hunt, was told the situation, and said without hesitation, "Give her a pair of shoes." Now that is good customer service. Nordstrom is known for it. Every other store should be as well. As a postscript to that story, my friend's shoe was finally found later that night and returned the next day. She got to keep the new shoes!

Sherryl Woods

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

An economic deep breath...

This has not been a good week on the economic front. Have you noticed? From the effect of Hurricane Ike on gas prices to the tumble of major institutions on Wall Street, I'm amazed all of us are not stuffing our savings under a mattress and hiding under the covers until this passes.

And it will. At least some of it. In the meantime, just about all the average American can do is take a deep breath, make some(further)adjustments and hold on for the ride.

Last Saturday, while Ike was still battering Texas, gas prices were shooting back up. I stopped to fill up at a station across the river in Maryland en route to my cousin's. The station was so busy bumping up prices that none of the pumps were actually functioning. As a result, almost every one of the many waiting cars simply pulled out and left. I found gas two blocks away -- ten cents a gallon cheaper. I call that Karmic justice. I wanted to go back and dance a little jig at that other station, but that would have been a waste of gas.

Unfortunately we've become a nation attached to our cars. We've bought bigger and bigger vehicles and moved further and further away from work. These days that's a costly combination, making it very tough on families already operating on a tight budget. Even though my car is relatively fuel efficient and I work at home, I find myself stopping for a minute to think about whether I really need to make that weekly 45-mile drive to Fredericksburg to pick up a few things from Target or Wal-Mart and satisfy my addiction to Starbucks iced cafe mocha.

What have you found yourself giving up this summer? What adjustments are you making to your routine? I saw a news article the other day suggesting that some of the less expensive restaurants are still doing okay. People are still eating out, if they can do it cost-effectively. What about you? Are you taking your lunch to work? Eating out less as a family, or simply changing the places you choose to eat to a less costly alternative? Consolidating errands? Already planning to spend less for the holidays?

If you have tips that have conserved gas or helped your family budget in these difficult times, let us know about them by clicking on comments below. Or send an email directly to me at and I'll post it for you.

Meantime, take that deep breath and try not to panic.

Sherryl Woods

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