Earlier this year, I told you about an abysmal experience I had with a customer service representative at a local retail establishment. I wanted to laminate a photograph I was using as a reference for a portrait I was painting, and I didn’t know how to operate the laminating device. I finally got the attention of an employee who reluctantly stopped what she was doing — which consisted of staring at a computer screen and avoiding eye contact — and who proceeded to tell me in as few words as possible how to operate the laminating machine, without actually helping me do it. I obviously had interrupted something she deemed more important than a customer request.
The result was a ruined photograph, a cursory “You don’t have to pay for it” and a return to staring at her computer. To say she cared little about my predicament would be too kind. The apologetic office manager tried to help, but it was too late. The photograph was toast, and I was an unhappy camper (an understatement.) As I was leaving, he lamented that examples of bad customer service tend to get recounted a lot more than good ones. He was correct. I shared the episode with you and made sure the manager got a copy of the column as well.
A couple of weeks ago, I had another photograph to laminate for another painting. After swearing I would never do business with the store again, I happened to be in the neighborhood and thought it would be interesting to see if anything had changed. After all, the worst thing that could happen would be fodder for another column on the importance of good customer service. I try to see the bright side in everything.
It was like a different store. I was met almost immediately by a pleasant young man who asked if he could assist me. When I told him what I needed, he took over and I got a perfectly-laminated photograph and the feeling that my request was very important to him. A night-and-day change from what I had experienced on my last visit there.
Having chewed on the manager previously, I complimented him on the changes. It turns out that Ms. No Help is gone and has taken her attitude with her. I was assured it wasn’t because of my comments alone. It seems others had some of the same experiences that I had. I told the relieved manager since I had written about a bad experience at his store, it seemed only fair I acknowledge a good one. He didn’t argue. Go figure.
Even though all is well that ends well, one thing remains constant from these two experiences: Customer service is still Job One. Without the customer, there is no business, no bottom line, no strategic plan, no nothing. And if a company is emphasizing anything ahead of good customer service, they are ultimately doomed to failure. Giving good customer service is an on-going and ever changing proposition. No organization will ever get to the point of being able to say it has mastered the art form. You must re-earn your customer’s business every day and in every contact.
I’m not sure why I went back to this store, but I am glad I did and glad I can report that the changes I saw were remarkable. It is a reminder that good customer service isn’t rocket science. Sometimes, it is just an obliging employee and a laminating machine.
Dick Yarbrough is retired vice president of BellSouth Corporation and was managing director — media and government relations for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. He was named one of the “100 Most Influential Public Relations Practitioners of the 20th Century” by PR WEEK Magazine.