A Customer Service Parable

I was almost peeing my pants. But in a good way. Charged. Chuffed. Over the moon.

I had been spending months on a particularly nagging faulty brake light problem on my ’66 VW Beetle. I won’t spell out all the details here because it’s beside my point, but assume I tried a buttload of stuff. Ground wires and contact plates, that sort of thing. Finally! I nailed down the problem to a broken bulb filament. Yeah, dumb, okay. Let’s not point fingers.

But there I was in my garage with only one thing standing between me and working brake lights. New bulbs. So I raced (different car) to the local auto parts store. Never mind the half-made dinner I had in the pot. I was solving this now.

I almost tore the door off the hinges getting inside the store and made a crazy dash to the bulb section, shoving aside old ladies and unattended children. At last I found my Precious!

With greasy, trembling hands I approached the counter, where no less than five AutoZone nameless auto store employees stood staring at me. No other customers were in sight. As my electrified Beetle-fixing body held out the Precious, three of the employees turned away. Wait, what? Ok, whatever. I’ll find someone else. I turned to what appeared to be the manager, who was looking at me but listening to another employee complain about her schedule. It’s ok, you’re here now, I told myself. You have the Precious. Patience.

After about a minute of patience learning intimate details of the employee’s personal life, aches and pains, I placed the Precious on the counter. Maybe that was the secret code for let me give you my money. The manager glanced over and growled, “Cash or Charge?” “Cash,” I squeaked out.

Without a glance at me, the employee grabbed the Precious and continued to talk to the manager… for another minute. The manager seemed powerless in the grip of this employee’s whining diatribe. The other employees kind of meandered about, whistling at the ceiling.

That was it for me. I walked straight out the door (without the Precious), stepping over the old lady I had earlier pushed aside. There was another auto parts store only a half block away. I found my bulbs (New Precious) and they cheerfully took my money.

Now, I realize that in the first store, my patience was thinner than plastic wrap. Two minutes as an eternity is relative. I have waited much longer for more important things without losing my mind. In fact, I probably waited in line just as long at store number two. The difference is relative. At the second store, the person behind the counter made me feel like I was welcome, and was actually busy helping another customer. Huge difference.

Whether your business is online, inside a store, or a booth at weekend markets, the most important thing you can do is make people feel welcome. Even if you don’t have what they want, even if you ultimately don’t make a sale with that person, the feeling they take away is the most important thing you can offer. Make them feel good, they will likely be back. Make them feel ignored or less than welcome, and they will likely not return, ever. And either way, they will be telling their friends about you.

I believe that business succeeds in the long term. The short term is what you’ve just sold and that might put food on the table for a day. The long term is the goodwill you give away that will eventually put food on the table for years.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

All images and text are © Sparky Firepants • Privacy Policy