Precious Customers

Bad customer service has taken on a new meaning for me during this recession. Behavior I once dismissed as that of someone too busy to give me better service, I now recognize as behavior of someone with a bad attitude, or who is unwilling to make an effort.

Last month, I noticed a new running shoe store opened a few doors down from the store I’ve been buying running shoes at for the past 20 years. I felt compelled to stop in and take a look at this new competitor. I’d be foolish not to comparative shop, especially now.

So, on the way home from work one night I stopped in. As I walked into the store the sales person informed me (with a little attitude) the store was closed and I couldn’t come in. I looked at my watch and noticed it was five minutes before six o’clock. On one hand, I understand the urge to go home after a long day at work, and the possibility that management might have strict rules about working past closing. But on the other hand, we’re in a recession and I was a living, breathing customer. Plus, technically, they were still open.

I’ve noticed recently what I perceive as a lack of appreciation for my business at many stores and restaurants. I’m no one special, but still, I have money to spend. Am I being unreasonable? Closing time is closing time, I suppose.

But seriously, would you turn away potential clients just because they walk in your door five minutes before closing?

Following are two more stories, but they’re about people who get it.

While at a trade show last month, a colleague told me what a great price he locked in for his hotel room. When he arrived at the hotel, he noticed the lobby looked empty. Then, the man at the registration desk informed him he had been upgraded to a much better room. When asked why, the desk clerk said, “You’re here, so we might as well make you happy.” What a great way to look at it.

An even more compelling story, I believe, is that of the gate agent at the airport on my way to the American Institute of Architects Convention. I approached the man and asked for the best way to secure a seat in an exit row. He took the time to explain that with my relatively low frequent flyer status, I had almost no chance. I thanked him for his time and began to walk away to find a seat.

As I approached an open seat, I felt someone tap me on my shoulder. It was the gate agent I just finished talking to. He told me the man behind me in line was in a middle seat in an exit row and wanted to exchange it for an aisle seat, which I possessed. The gate agent hustled almost 100 feet to chase me down while five people waited in line, just to give me what I wanted. I was shocked at my luck, and at the agent’s willingness to go the extra mile to help a customer.

Now is the time to practice the best customer service you can produce. Now is the time to win customers. Show them you’re happy you’re talking to them. Tell them you know they could go to your competitor, then make them stay with you. Don’t take business for granted.