Customer Service Still Counts

How much do you value customer service? Whether it’s a smile from the check-out person at the grocery store, or recovering a call back from a business the same day you call, customer service impacts our perception of a business.

            There have been times when I’ve not even been greeted when I walk into a store. I also purchased an item­–during the most recent holiday season– at a nice little downtown shop, only to have the person behind the counter not speak even once while the transaction occurred. No “Thank You,” no “Happy Holidays,” nothing. Not a single word!

            Do those experiences make me want to return to those places? I’m sure you know the answer. And if those were your own personal businesses, how would you feel to know the people working at and representing your store can’t be bothered to open their mouth and say and simple “Hello!” and “Thank You!”

            Customer service doesn’t have to be a major or expensive investment, though it has been for many well-known companies. They were willing to make the investment and it paid off.

            Here are a few anecdotes as read in a recent blog post by Seth Godin called “Your Customer Service Strategy.” Godin is an American author and former dot com business executive.

            When Tony built Zappos, he invested in having his customer service people spend hours on the phone with customers, rewarding them for going to great lengths to create memorable interactions. It created a billion dollar shoe store.

When Fedex was building relationships with busy businesspeople who would become the backbone of their customer base, they answered the phone on the first ring, every time.

When Apple needed to save the Mac from Windows hegemony, they installed experts at the Genius bar and encouraged them to spend the time needed to humanize a traditionally inhuman interaction.

Tesla saw that Ford and GM were working to increase the profits that their dealers would make on service. So they chose to seek to make no money at all on service, using that as a key marketing message to their luxury audience. It’s cheaper than TV ads.

            Take a few moments to think through your strategy for customer service in 2019. This is one of the easiest things to fix for a small business, but also one of the most common smart business tenets that is abused by unthinking or unmentored staff (and obtuse owners).

Customer service matters. As I do, people will remember how they were treated when interacting with your business. Will it be a good memory? Or will they avoid your business in the future? Even worse, will they share their bad experience with others? It’s in your hands now to decide, because ultimately, the customer will determine the success of your business.

The Gift of a New Year

Another year has ended. As is often the case, we look back with nostalgia and recall the year’s best. Northern Michigan experienced an incredible summer, which started early and lasted into September. Anyone who says summer was short didn’t get out enough!

            Simultaneously at year’s end, there are thoughts of the year to come. Despite any wistful thoughts about 2018, the time is at hand to look ahead. 2019 arrives with promises of starting fresh. It is the time for resolutions, though for best results they should be reasonable. Advice articles on keeping resolutions suggest setting specific goals within reach. For example, instead of a broad statement like, “This year I’ll get in shape,” a better approach is to think, “This year, I’ll run a mile without stopping.” Other advice is to be patient with one’s self. We all know the line, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Persistence pays off. Don’t give up easily if your resolution proves to be a challenge. Start new and try again. And keep trying.

            The blank slate of a new year is exciting. New opportunities abound – books to read, classes to take, movies to see, trips to plan. Try a new recipe or craft. Getting out of one’s comfort zone brings unexpected benefits. Are we ever done learning about ourselves and the world around us? Hopefully the answer was “No.” Make a phone call to an old friend, or anyone who has been on your mind. Volunteer for a favorite cause. Allow yourself to be a student again, whether it’s literally by taking a class or just by resolving to keep an open mind about the world.

            Most importantly, approach 2019 with a spirit of gratitude. Even when feeling overwhelmed, stopping to write a short list of good things from the day can keep life in perspective. For us Northerners, that list may include something as simple as “The sun shone today.” We can all be grateful for that during the winter!

            We enjoyed 2018 and wish it adieu.

            Happy New Year. We hope you make it a good one.