Good Service vs. Bad Service - A Parable.

Once upon a time there was a coach. He woke up every morning at 4:30 AM and worked until 5 PM. Some days he worked at his office in Stamford — some days he worked at his home office.

Some days he coached all day long with wonderful clients — some days he was on the road connecting with old and new friends to build his business.

During these wonderful times, this coach would make a small detour and pick up a few foodstuffs for his family (it's the least he could to to help his ravishingly beautiful and infinitely smarter wife).

This day, he stopped off at a supermarket, let's call it Supermarket 'A'. Everywhere Rich went in Supermarket 'A', if he saw an employee stocking the shelf or walking by, they would greet him with a smile and ask if they could help him find something. Many times, they would comment on an item he was purchasing and offer positive comments on how to use it. The store was clean, well-stocked, and had a homey, comfortable feel about it.

Supermarket 'A' provides a station where one could sample new foods and most of the time, the offerings were incredible where the coach would just have to buy the spotlighted item. And today he would do just that.

The best part of this coach's visit was checking out. First, there were three registers open and one of the employees immediately caught the coach's eye and asked, "Ready to check out? I can take you over here!". As they unloaded his cart and scanned each item, they engaged the coach in conversation about some of the items he was purchasing and how his day was going so far. They profusely thanked the coach for bagging and encouraged him to fill out a ticket (a drawing for a free gift certificate) because the coach brought and used his own bags.

With a hearty good-day from the Supermarket 'A's employee at the register, the coach had an extra spring in his step rolling his carriage to the car.

The next day, the coach had to stop at another supermarket, let's call it Supermarket 'B'. Everywhere Rich went in Supermarket 'B', his aisle was blocked by multiple large, wheeled pallets full of boxes. The employees unpacking the boxes all had a unique air that the coach would describe as 'depressed and angry'. They rarely moved out of the way, grunted when they had to and filled in each aisle making travel a torture course for every shopper. Each aisle was dirty and the lighting resembled the inside of a refrigerator — blinding, florescent white.

When the coach reached the pharmacy to pick up a prescription (no worries - it's an allergy) — he had to wait in line (5 customers deep) and watch the pharmacist work behind the counter, answer phone calls, and ultimately step out and assist the next customer. Where it should have taken the coach 2-3 minutes to complete a simple pick-up transaction, he was in line for approximately 12 minutes. That's a long time to spend standing in line. Honest.

Finally, when it was time to check out, there were only three (out of 15 registers) open and all three had lines 5-6 people deep. The coach chose the self-checkout register, scanned his frequent shopper card to get normal pricing on his items, and began to unload, self-scan, and pack up his items in his bag. Guess what? Three items in, the scanner encountered a problem and required a manager to login, reset, and allow the coach to purchase his five items. Unfortunately, there was no manager to be found, so the coach had to wait until one appeared from their break.

With a hearty FU from Supermarket 'B', the coach had an extra slog in his step and rising, burning anger in his neck rolling his carriage to the car.

All kidding aside, what's going on here?

  1. One establishment gets it, one doesn't (or just doesn't care).
  2. One has engaged and enthusiastic employees, and one doesn't.
  3. One has the layout and logistics of selling food nailed, and one doesn't.
  4. One had a comfortable, homey feel and the other a dirty, clinical atmosphere.
  5. One had reasonable pricing and great quality, the other high-prices and questionable quality.

Now you might ask, why does the coach shop at Supermarket 'B' and not all the time at Supermarket 'A'? Proximity and convenience. 'A' is far away and takes 30 minutes of drive time. 'B' is five minutes away.

There are a number of lessons to learn here today:

  1. Availability and convenience do play a major part in consumer's choice. Time sometimes trumps quality, service, and price.
  2. The way you treat your customers, with even the simplest of transactions, impacts their shopping experience. Bad employees do hurt you.
  3. Even though people want choice and change, they also like consistency. They don't want to be inundated with 100's of items. Make it easy and simple.
  4. Making customers wait should be avoided, not embraced by your organization. Even DisneyWorld makes waiting fun.

What's the moral of the story? The coach should (and will) plan out his shopping each week and endeavor to hit Supermarket 'A' on a regular basis.


5 Easy Ways To Give Great Customer Service.

I ordered new running shoes from Zappos the other day. If you've ever ordered from Zappos — you'll know they sometimes don't have the best prices. But they do deliver the best customer service.

When I say "CUSTOMER SERVICE", it isn't specific to business owners. If you work in corporate, CUSTOMER SERVICE is critical — you have CUSTOMERS above you, along side you, and below you. When you work at an organization, it's formal Human Resources name is "interpersonal communication".

To survive, you need to keep your customers engaged, happy, and wanting more of your products and services. So without further ado — here they are:

1. Deliver WOW during the whole process.

From the initial screens, to the multiple angles, to the highly-descriptive videos Zappos makes you feel right at home choosing your merchandise. Everything is clear, and open and they really don't try to hard-sell you. In addition, they promote their core values at the bottom of every page to let the customer know what philosophies are guiding every business interaction.

When I say WOW, I want you to look at everything you do for your boss, customer, or client. At every juncture, how can you do a little bit better? How can you elevate every touchpoint and anticipate their needs? How can you reach out and make every interaction more streamlined and pleasurable?

2. Make the customer feel special by personalizing the process.

Zappos remembers ALL of your purchases. A year after I bought a pair of Merrell Jungle Mocs, I received an email to let me know it's been a year and if I'd like to buy another pair. Although my pair is in good shape and I didn't need another pair just yet — the thought of receiving a card is impressive.

When was the last time you reached out to your current client base to remind them of a service or product? How about a new service or product? How about a simple card appreciating their business? You can do almost anything and make the customer feel special.

3. Be responsive. 4. If something goes wrong, ask questions and listen. 5. If you screwed up, give them a token of appreciation.

I had a slight snafu with one of my orders — I ordered it on the regular Zappos site and not the VIP site (we order a lot of shoes). The end result — shoes I thought were arriving that day were delayed by a few days. On the phone, the Zappos representative was helpful and was able to expedite the shipment. In addition, they sent me an email with a $25 credit to apply to my next purchase. WOW.

If something goes wrong — fix it immediately. Don't wait for it to 'go away'.

First, you need to be instantly accessible to allow your clients to access you. All of my clients have a direct line to me — so they can either call or email me. If it's an emergency, I get back the them ASAP. If it's just a question, 24 hours is fine. But I am there — they don't sit in my inbox for weeks or are relegated to my voicemail for eternity. I get back to them. And they can access me instantly.

Second, if there is something wrong, ask questions and then LISTEN. Most people try to fix the problem without listening to the entire story. Your customer first and foremost want you to empathize with their situation. So your job is to ask questions for clarification and listen to them until they run out of steam. Then empathize with them — "I'm so sorry to hear that happened." or "Let's see what we can do to solve your problem."

Finally, if YOU screwed up — apologize and give them a token of appreciation. A discount, a gift, flowers, take them out to lunch, whatever. A small token of acknowledgement and a gift will not only go the distance, they will be your customer forever.

How To Deliver Unbelievable Customer Service.

I wear Allen Edmonds shoes. The are quite expensive (most run around the $300/pair pricepoint) — but they are really well made. Also, they are the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn. Why? They're handmade in Wisconsin and they don't use nails — they hand-sew every shoe (check this video out). I've had my pair of wing-tips for the past 15 years.