Sometimes I wonder if good customer service has gone the way of the dodo bird and 8-track tapes.
In a long-ago and faraway time, I had responsibility for my company’s advertising. I used to tell my colleagues that if we got a potential customer to the business with some cute ad and then gave them poor service, we had wasted our advertising dollars. That is a true today and it was in the Dark Ages in which I uttered them.
I was reminded of that recently when I was enticed into a sporting goods store by their ads and ignored by the clerks, even though I was the only one in the store. Left to my own devices, I arrived at the checkout counter with an item that was supposed to be on sale but wasn’t — I was told it had been placed on the wrong rack — as well as in the wrong size. Other than that, it was a terrific experience and one I likely won’t share with the store again.
I related that story to Howard Krimsky, who owns Binders Art Supplies in Atlanta where I buy my paints and brushes for my nascent art career. It was at Binders where I received the best customer service in the history of mankind.
Some years ago, I had gone into the store as a total stranger to buy an inexpensive easel. Although it was shown in one of their ads, it was unavailable. I was not a happy camper, asking an unfortunate sales clerk why they would advertise such an item if they didn’t intend to offer it for sale. Besides, I was going out of town and had wanted to take the easel with me.
Krimsky’s partner, Jay Shapiro, overheard the conversation, apologized for the inconvenience and asked me when I was leaving town. I told him early in the morning. He said the easel would there before I left. After the store closed, Shapiro drove quite some distance to get the easel and had it at the store when I arrived. I suspect he spent more on gas that I spent on that easel. Tragically, Shapiro died a few years later but I never forgot his efforts on my behalf. I have been a loyal Binders customer ever since.
Why the huge discrepancies in customer service these days, I asked Krimsky. Where are the Jay Shapiros? It seems like retail clerks these days have taken a course in how to avoid eye contact, lest they have to (shudder!) say “Can I help you?” He said a lot of it is communications. “You have to talk to employees every day about the importance of the customer,” he said. “It has to always be at the top of their minds.”
In addition, Krimsky says that managers should listen to their employees and encourage them to come with suggestions on how to enhance customer service. I am just guessing here but I would say that based on some of my experiences, managers listening to their employees is also going the way of the dodo bird.
“When our customers come into our stores” — Binders has two in Atlanta and one in North Carolina — “they must have a good experience,” he said. “We must let them know we appreciate their business and always put the customer first. That is how you build customer loyalty.”
That is even more critical these days with ease of doing business on the internet, plus a generation of millennials who aren’t inclined to loyalty to any business. Krimsky says some millennials will come into his stores, check out a particular item and then order it from the internet while they are still in the store. “They are a challenge,” Krimsky says with some degree of understatement.
I buy a few items on the internet now and then, but I like to walk into a store and talk to a live human being who seems interested in my business.
Giving good service and creating a loyal customer really shouldn’t be all that hard. It just has to be a management priority. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case these days. We have gotten so used to poor service that we don’t even mind being on hold for eons while a robot tells us our call is important when we know it isn’t because we know that robots lie like a dog. And I can guarantee you they wouldn’t drive across town to get me my easel.