Column: Something About Nothing, by Julie Seedorf
“The golden rule for every business man is this: ‘Put yourself in your customer’s place.’” — Orison Swett Marden
I have written about customer service and how important it is in a business. Recently I have pondered what it means to be a customer. Maybe we need to change the Golden Rule and put ourselves in the checkout clerk’s place.
A few weeks ago I was shopping in a fabric store with my daughter-in-law. It was around 8 p.m. As I walked up to the checkout I had to wait for a customer and the clerk to finish a transaction. It didn’t take long, but when it was my turn the clerk apologized to me for the wait. I replied that it was no problem. The conversation continued, and I remarked that she was probably tired at this time of night after working a long day. She replied that she had started work about 4 p.m. so it wasn’t so bad. My next comment was: “That’s good. I don’t hear that too often at this time of night. Usually checkout people have worked long days and aren’t quite so cheery.”
I don’t know what there was about that sentence that meant anything, but the next minute the woman was saying to me, “I could just hug you. You have no idea how much what you just said means to me. Thank you.”
I, not knowing exactly what meant so much to her, replied, “I’ll give you a hug if you want.”
The clerk reached across the counter and gave me a big hug and with tears in her eyes thanked me again. We finished our transaction, and I left the store. I must admit I have never had a reaction like that before making a purchase, but I felt good leaving the store. She had a smile on her face, and so did I.
I have concluded customer service goes two ways. Yes, companies need to give good customer service to keep their customers, but what do we as consumers have as our responsibility? Is it our responsibility to be rude to a service person, even if at times they are rude to us? Maybe they have a reason to be rude to us. We have no idea how many rude people they have had to contend with before we met them.
If I think about the number of people many customer service reps and clerks come in contact with during a day, I might understand their attitude when at times they do not seem very friendly. We, as customers, have a tendency to want our way and to want it right now. When something isn’t as we think it should be we complain loudly and not always graciously. Meeting this woman gave me pause to think about my interactions with clerks, customer service people and even telemarketers. Yes, there have been times where my impatience with a service has resulted in my treating the person trying to help me rudely.
In fact, it almost happened the other night. I was on the phone with a service technician who did not understand my problem. He tried taking me through all of these tests. I explained that the tests he was taking me through would not find the problem because it wasn’t relevant to the problem. He told me it didn’t matter because the company made them go through all these steps before they could report a problem, even if they knew it wasn’t the problem.
It didn’t make sense to me, but it was taking up my time and lots of it. I realized that he was a cog in a wheel trying to do his job that was strangled by the red tape he had to go through because of a large company policy that didn’t give their workers the freedom to make common sense decisions. It wasn’t his fault, and he wanted to keep his job.
Yes, I have hung up on telemarketers. After my experience with this woman I have tried to think twice about doing that. Again, they are trying to make a living like you and I try to make a living. Those jobs might make the difference between a person having employment or being on the streets.
Maybe a telemarketer job is the only job the person on the other end of the line could find. After all, who would want to be abused on the phone time after time the way the general public treats telemarketers? They are the scapegoat for a business that most people dislike because telemarketing intrudes in our lives on a device that we pay for and should have more say in the calls we receive.
Our world of technology has us moving so fast that we forget about the human factor of wear and tear on the human when we actually have a warm body that interacts with the public.
Yes, I want good customer service. We have become frustrated consumers because businesses and corporations, and even our medical facilities have become large businesses that become difficult to navigate because they are too large. We take our frustrations out on the people at the bottom level of those corporations, folks who work the checkouts, customer service lines and are the first contact with a customer. These service people receive the brunt of our frustration, and they, most of the time, are powerless, bound by rules of companies that give them no decision-making power in how the structure is set up.
The next time you are in a checkout line or on the phone with a customer service rep, be as focused on the kind of customer you are as you are on the service you are getting.
Thank you to the person who gave me a hug and made me smile. You thought I was helping you, but hopefully you helped me to be a better customer no matter where I shop. You made a difference in my life.