Customer Service Back in the Day

Getting business through old-fashioned customer service could be your competitive edge.

The customer is always rightI was at a gas station the other day and noticed something that caused me to look twice. At first, it appeared to be a normal occurrence, a man pumping gas and then cleaning his windshield.

Thinking nothing of this, I continued with my gas purchase. When I again looked at the other vehicle, I saw a man walking to the rear of the same car, yet there was someone else continuing to clean his windshield.

To my surprise, the person cleaning his windshield and tending to this gas was the gas station attendant, not the customer.

This caused me to wonder if the economy might be having an impact on the level of customer service being offered today. As businesses compete for dollars, which are being tightly held by consumers, we may be seeing more of this.

Back in the day, we used to be known for giving great service to our customers and the mantra of “The Customer is Always Right” was a standard policy throughout most every retail establishment and other types of businesses.

Customers were number #1 and intensely loyal. The customer service counter area was always visible when you entered a store, and everyone knew that was where you went to solve problems and get answers to questions, any question.

Briefly, let us stroll down memory lane and look at what our customer service practices used to be. Granted, some of these still exist. Nevertheless, things have definitely changed.

– If there was an issue with an account, you didn’t have to listen to 5 or 6 different message prompts before speaking to a live person, or getting the requested information.

– If you were not happy with your meal, it would be replaced with a freshly made duplicate meal, not put in a microwave and returned.

– In a restaurant, if you needed to take home your leftover meal, the restaurant staff would prepare your carry out package in the kitchen area, rather than have you do it at your table.

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– If you had some installation done in your home, cable, telephone etc., the debris would be cleaned up by the technicians, and not left for you to do.

– If you’re admitted to the emergency room, you better have health insurance, enough said on this one.

Today, our customer service industry has become more automated with pre-recorded messages, self-service, unassisted online and offline shopping, less emphasis on the customer and a general feeling of having to “jump through hoops” to get a problem resolved or redeem a rebate. I believe we have come to expect less from the businesses we support.

On the other hand, this economic crisis is forcing businesses to go that extra mile in responding to their customers’ needs. These are loyal customers who find themselves caught up in the downturn and need understanding. They need a return to the old fashioned customer service that endeared them to your business for life.

For example, have you seen the advertisements from certain auto manufacturers who say they will pay several months of your auto note, if a job loss occurs? This is an example of addressing the customer’s needs in this down economy. If this program wasn’t in place, these people would lose their vehicles. Why aren’t all car manufacturers doing the same?

Here are some other ways to make your customer service more compassionate during these times:

Make it possible for your customers to talk to a live person when calling your business. This will alleviate some of your customer’s stress as it shows you care about addressing your customer’s issues and concerns quickly. Also, not having to move through several phone prompts can save time for the customer.

Be friendly and kind to all customers and greet them nicely. Stress has taken over many lives these days, and a smiling face can make a difference in that person’s day.

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Think customer safety: Repair or clean up any area of your business that might become a hazard. For example: keep grocery store carts moved frequently from store parking lots so that they don’t roll into the customer’s cars and children. There have been many damages to vehicles and injuries to children when this is not done.

In a restaurant, make sure the customer’s food is brought to them properly heated. If the food is brought to the customer cold, it makes for an unhappy experience and is often sent back. In addition, you could lose this customer. It may not seem like a huge deal as not everyone complains about cold food. On the other, it’s the details you want to pay attention to. There’s never been a better time to make your business stand out.

Honor coupons even if the customer does not have the actual cut out version, especially if they know about the sale and ask for the discount. For regular, frequent shoppers, this should be standard practice. The customer’s continued shopping at your business will be assured.

Finally, today, there is much more competition and customers have a wide choice of alternatives. Brand loyalty has been replaced with buying from a merchant with the best quality and price for their product.

Yet, in times of economic stress, customers remember those businesses that can offer empathy along with the sale. A late fee not charged, an interest rate not raised, a car not repossessed. Perhaps this recession will, indeed, bring us back to the day when a customer’s purchase meant more than the sound of a cash register.

About the Author

Debra Barrow is a home based business owner with a background in education and corporate business analysis and finance. Debra enjoys working online, building websites, and discovering new technologies.

Chief Customer Officers Fall

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