Thursday, June 14, 2012

Customer Service - 'Service' Emphasized

We hear a lot about customer service these days. Both good and bad. Usually people don't say much when the service is just ok. However, when things are really good, or really bad, then usually people speak up and spread the word. Word of mouth advertising truly does have legs! And wait until you hear an unbelievable true story of my personal customer service experience I had...but first...

But just what IS customer service? According to, customer service is "the assistance and other resources that a company provides to the people who buy or use its products or services." Most people would define customer service as the level of satisfaction, or feeling that a product or service has met our expectations.

Customer service is a very generic term that encompasses the whole range of an entire transaction. From first contact with a business, and those that provide that service, through the entire purchase process of the transaction's life-cycle, before, during, and after the actual sale.

To offer customers truly outstanding service, it's necessary not just to meet a customer's expectations, but to offer them something else, intangible, like a warm, friendly, and genuinely sincere attitude throughout the transaction process. I define customer service as the steps taken above and beyond customer expectations, that truly make each and every customer feel special.

I recall a true story of a waitress who once waited on a friend of mine. He had ordered a Diet Coke and the waitress replied that their restaurant served only Pepsi Products. She could tell he was obviously disappointed, but he ordered the Diet Pepsi anyway. When the waitress returned a few minutes later with his drink, he was surprised to receive the Diet Coke he originally ordered. The waitress had gone next door, to the convenience store, and purchased for him the Diet Coke he really wanted. That, my friends, is customer service.

Would it have been easier to simply bring the Diet Pepsi her restaurant carried?

Did the customer expect the Diet Pepsi?

Was he more than surprised to receive the Diet Coke?

Do you think my friend went back to that restaurant again and again?
You better believe he did.

Not only that, my friend offered this waitress a job at his company. You see, that waitress had an attitude and an intangible something extra that money just can't buy. Not everybody has the 'right' attitude when it comes to serving customers. She had a focus on taking care of the customer, not the extra $1.50 it cost her for the Diet Coke. You think she and her restaurant more than made up for that $1.50 with the tips my friend left her, and the repeat business from my friend. Absolutely.

What about the word of mouth advertising this waitress and restaurant gained as a result of this simple act of customer service? I'm still telling this story years afterwards. As I mentioned in the first sentence, most people don't recognize or acknowledge customer service unless it is extremely good, or extremely bad. Most of us expect customer service to be simply ok, because it's what we get 99% of the time.

I'll mention one more act of typical customer service, and one of outstanding customer service, both at the same store. I was at Barnes & Noble Book Store the other day, in Millbury, MA. I was looking for a book, on this subject actually, customer service, and I couldn't find the right section on my own. I asked one of the store assistants behind the counter, and she said the books on customer service were over in the business section. That was it. No shelf number, no references.

I went back to the business section and still could not find the books I was looking for. I went again to the counter and a young gentleman asked what I was looking for, and not only did he walk me over to the correct book section, he selected several of the books on customer service off the shelf and briefly updated me on the particulars of those books and offered a few suggestions to help me out. Wow. I was blown away at the time and effort he took to assist me in finding just the right book. And to think the other assistant who merely told me what section the books were in, how much more helpful this young man was. What a different attitude he had about customer service, and it made all the difference in the world to me. Now it would be nice to see entire businesses staffed with genuinely concerned customer service professionals like him.

And now to my unbelievable "customer service" experience. This story, completely true and also a recent personal experience. On the other side of the fence, are the horrible customer service experiences, and we've all had plenty. But this one actually surprised me, in a totally new way.

I was in a local coin store to pick up a few items the other day. I was actually picking up a few coins I had sent out to a coin grading service for professional grading. This particular store offers this service to their customers. The coins I sent out were ready to pick up. I got to the store, and realized I had forgotten my receipt at home. The store owner handed my coins over to me and was about to ring me up when I explained to him that I was sorry, but I forgot my receipt at home. Instead of what most any store employee would do, which is make a copy of the original receipt and mark the items picked up, the owner of the store stopped what he was doing and went on a verbal tirade and chastised me loudly and flagrantly in front of two of his employees, for not having my receipt with me.

This verbal sparring went on for nearly half an hour. I was being verbally chastised by the business owner! After a few minutes of explaining that I would be happy to send him the original receipt, or I could run home and get it, the owner went on and on and on about me disrespecting his story policies etc. etc. etc. At one point I simply asked him what the big deal was, as he had already given me my coins back. I also explained that I most certainly did not appreciate the way he was speaking to me, or the attitude and contempt he had for me, one of his customers! I also mentioned to the owner he was making me uncomfortable by the way he was speaking to me, and was making an uncomfortable situation in front of his employees.

I did not steal anything. I did not do anything unethical. I simply forgot a receipt at home...and this business owner felt the need to yell at me in front of his employees for half an hour before I had enough and left the store.

Imagine being yelled at by a store employee of Stop and Shop for forgetting your recycling bags. I could not believe the terrible service at this particular coin store. I felt verbally abused! I surely will not be back there ever again. 

Now contrast this incident with the helpful employee at Barnes and Noble, or the friendly waitress who brought my friend a Diet Coke. Do you think I would ever recommend that coin store to anyone? Do you think I will recount my experience in that store and that the story will be passed on and on.

Customer service goes way beyond simply waiting on a customer, or answering a few questions, or offering customers simply what they expect. True customer service is about going above and beyond the customers expectations and actually giving the customer a reason to spread a positive message on to others.

And by the way, because of the terrible treatment I received from that store owner, I sent him a letter with my honest feedback of my experience in his store, along with a copy of a book I was given 20 years ago when I first entered the customer service profession. It was a book on providing Knock Your Socks Off Customer Service. It has served me well to recognize and provide my customers with outstanding customer service. Hopefully that business owner will take it to heart and realize there are helpful alternatives and simple solutions that both take care of customers and serve the best interests of his business.

Until next time, for sincere customer service and a friendly helpful attitude, feel free to give us a call with any numismatic related questions, comments, or service. Charlton Coins 508-335-6788

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