Last week, a lady from Dateline NBC called. She said that she had read one of my columns. This particular column described the experience of being treated poorly at some major discount stores. She specifically referred to an incident where I related almost having to "stick out my foot and trip a customer service representative to try to get his attention while he walked down the aisle." That was about a year ago. Dateline wanted to see if this was common in many other stores. They asked for the names of stores where they could go with a hidden camera to catch rude, uncaring, less-than-gracious clerks and salespeople being annoying and generally unprofessional.
You’re not going to see this segment on Dateline anytime soon. They scrapped it. They tried to get salespeople and clerks to act like inconsiderate jerks. They generally couldn’t get anything that seemed to be a negative pattern on film that would be interesting to watch. They caught a few clerks talking to each other and avoiding customers, and a salesperson giving an unhappy shopper "customer lip service" just to get him or her out of the store. However, as the Dateline people put it, "We found too many people who really seemed to like their jobs." They liked their jobs. They tried to do the best they could. They tried to actually help their customers. Uh-oh. Could that be the secret of successful customer service? Liking your job? Relating to the customer? Could it really be that simple?
If someone really likes what he or she is doing, it shows. If they like their jobs, if they like the customers, if they like the company, and believe in what they sell, it comes across like a neon sign. They practically have: "We value you as a customer and want you to be happy," blinking on their foreheads. It’s amazing how great this attitude makes customers feel.
I’ve been having a problem with my Bose Wave Radio at home. The Wave Radio is that little clock radio beauty that sells for $350 and is the size of a box of doughnuts with a sound that could fill up a bus station. Nobody discounts it. It’s a super piece of equipment. However, a few months ago it would wake me up to static. It had drifted off the digitally set station, and no matter what preset I left the radio on at night, in the morning it would go to some other station. Sometimes it would go to some place in between. I called customer service and they told me to unplug the radio, remove the battery, wait five minutes and then plug in the radio, put in the battery and preset all twelve stations again. I did what they suggested. Then the radio worked fine. Until last week, that is. Then the same thing happened again. I called Bose customer service. They said they’d had very few complaints like this, but at least one other customer reported the same thing. They told me to do the "unplug" thing again. I told them this was a pain in the neck, and asked if it could be fixed permanently. They said, "Just send it back; we’ll be happy to look at it." I said, "You mean I have to find a box, pay for shipping, and then probably pay for you to look at it?" The gentleman on the line said, "No Sir. I’ll send you a box, give you a UPS label to send it back for free, and not charge you to fix it." Then I said, "Damn, this is a lot of trouble to go through. These things should be made to work for a long time." That’s when Steve (not his real name, just one I made up in case he reads this) asked, "How long have you left the battery in?" I told him a year. He said, "Try replacing that first and see what happens. Sometimes a discharged 9-volt can screw up the presets." I replied, "Hey, a battery won’t make a difference if the thing is plugged in." Steve, unruffled, said, "Look, I’ve been here a long time. I like it here. I want our customers to be happy. You can check out the battery like I just mentioned; or I’ll give you a box to send it back, pay for the shipping, and not charge you to fix it; or I can suggest how you might check it out yourself; or you can just vent out your frustrations to me and I’ll listen. What would you like me to do? Think about it. Take your time." Then he added, "By the way, how’s the weather in Syracuse and what the heck is going on with your football team?"
How could I not like this person and the entire Bose Company? I told him to send the box and a shipping label. The battery couldn’t possibly be the problem. I went home, replaced the 9-volt battery and it worked perfectly! Darn. I wanted to call him back. Down deep I think I wanted to complain that it was still not working. I couldn’t rile him at all. He believed in the company and the product. He was glad to have the chance to help. Now I have a shipping box sitting on the table in my office that I think I will send back with a note of apology. I’m actually sorry I disrupted his day being a troublesome customer who really just felt like complaining.
Steve’s attitude is what real customer service is all about. It’s not lip service. It’s the "I like my job; tell me what I have to do to make you happy" mindset that better clerks and salespeople have. Customers like to do business with someone they consider "nice" and they will send their friends to these nice people as well. It’s not always a bigger store or lower prices. It can be as simple as a genuine regard for the customer. Now there’s a hard-hitting story for Dateline. Except that as their producers found out, it’s an attitude that’s starting to be the norm rather than the exception. Look around and pay attention to what shoppers find in your store. Customer service or lip service? It’s time to find out how you and your store stack up.
Bob Popyk is the publisher of Creative Selling®, a monthly newsletter on sales and marketing strategies for high-ticket retailers. His sales meetings and seminars are presented worldwide to major companies and industries. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.