Customer Service — Necessary or Nice?


In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded of the importance of good customer service. I’ve seen instances of really good and really bad. For extra emphasis, they happened to come back to back!

My 96 year old grandma is downsizing again and my mom and I were charged with finding her a twin size box spring and mattress. Our plan was to find a decently firm mattress without breaking the bank. So we started at a large mattress outlet store where they only sell … wait for it … mattresses! We walked in and a middle aged sales lady looked at us and said (with a startled, deer in the headlights sort of look), ” Can . . . I . . . help . . .” I was so curious as to where she was going with her query, I just locked eyes with her and waited for her to finish! ” . . . steer you in a direction?” The last part came with an intonation that hinted at exasperation. We JUST walked in the door and already I felt like I was wasting her time!

After a brief explanation of what we were looking for and why, she sped us over to a corner and showed us a mattress set that was easily $200 more than we were hoping to spend. Fortunately the set was near the exit which made our getaway that much easier and speedy. My mom and I looked at each other once outside and both remarked at how terrible that saleslady was. She probably didn’t say more than a few sentences but overall the experience left a really bad taste in our mouths.

Literally across the large parking lot from this big mattress outlet store was another mattress outlet. This one was smaller and no frills. The second we walked in the door the man behind the counter stood up and walked toward us. With his hand outstretched, he said, “Hi I’m Doug! What can I help you with today?” After listening to our short list of needs and the reason behind them, he pointed out three options at three different price points. About fifteen minutes later, Doug personally loaded the mid priced mattress set into my van and we left spending about $100 more than we wanted to but feeling GREAT about the whole experience.

I could go on to dissect and compare both of these experiences but, honestly, haven’t we all had them? It’s easy to spot good customer service and even if their bottom line is to sell you something, delivery and technique determine whether you will be returning and whether you will encourage your circle of influence to shop there as well.

As a business owner, it’s a good reminder to go above and beyond for my customers and clients because I also know how good it feels as a customer to be treated well. If I want my business to succeed, great customer service is necessary. But this week I learned something else. I learned how reciprocally good it feels to just be – nice. Not that I’m not usually nice, but I think one of the things that has been lost in our culture lately is the old fashioned act of connecting with other human beings. It’s not often we meet someone new, however briefly, and have a meaningful interaction. But how refreshing it is when we do!

Yesterday, I had a service man come out from a water company. Since we live in the country and have a well, we also have a filtration system that needs parts and filters replaced annually. I happened to be home when the guy showed up so I greeted him and showed him where the filtration system was and left him to do his work. I was a little surprised when I first saw him that he was easily 60+ years old, scraggly grown out hair, baggy, stained uniform. But he had kind, Santa Claus-like eyes and a relaxed way about him.

After his job was done and his tools were loaded in his truck I noticed from the window that he was looking at some of my husband’s art and sculptures that are peppered around the entrance to our house. He would carefully and attentively look, touch, admire all the quirky little things that make our house ours. Something about his appreciation drew me to the door once again and we began to visit. He told me about his friend who does similar things with rocks and metal. He told me that one of his favorite things about his job is seeing what people do with their landscaping. He told me about a place where you can find really great fossils and it happened to be where my boys went a few weeks ago and brought back some really great fossils!

Our conversation turned to my husband’s hover stones which are rocks that have been drilled and metal rods inserted so that, amidst shrubbery, the stones seem to float. I asked him if he’d like to take one home and he said he’d be delighted. From about a dozen he thoughtfully chose one and went on his way. I was happy to give him one and he seemed happy to receive something unsolicited.

I’ve been trying to figure out why that brief interaction between me and the Santa-like repairman left me feeling so good and light. And I don’t know if I’ll ever really know, except it’s yet another example of good customer service. Although I think it fits more along the lines of good people skills. And I think it’s an example of what can happen when you take the time to get to know someone you wouldn’t normally interact with. I could’ve ignored what I saw through the window and he would’ve gotten into his truck with little more than a nod from me. I could’ve listened more to the little voice inside my head that cautioned –“I’m home alone. What if he tries to attack me?” But this day that voice was small and unconvincing. So I followed my instinct to engage with this older gentleman and I was blessed.

I hope you will look for similar opportunities this week and that they brighten your life. Here’s to being nice. It’s underrated but ultimately, it’s necessary in business and in life.


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