Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 31, 2005

Customer service counts even more in a global economy

“Although your customers won’t love you if you give bad service, your competitors will.” ~ Business consultant Kate Zabriskie

This has been a frustrating week for me. You see, whenever I can, I try to patronize locally owned businesses. If I have a choice between similar products, services and prices, I’ll make my purchase at a local business instead of a national chain.

But in three cases this week, locally owned businesses have made it difficult for me to justify continuing to spend my money with them.

And that’s too bad, not only for those businesses, but also for local sales tax revenue. In at least one case, I’m likely to have to take my business to San Jose or points north. Because I work in Santa Clara, that is not too great a burden for me. Local businesses must realize that their competitors aren’t just in South County. With so much of the population commuting, their competitors are all over the South Bay. With so much of the world online, for many businesses, their competitors are all over the globe.

This week, a locally owned business missed two delivery promises, sent a wrong product, sent too few of another product, omitted a product and overcharged me. I rearranged my schedule on three consecutive working days, inconveniencing my carpool mates, before I finally received everything I ordered. Two employees failed to return my calls attempting to fix this mess. Two other employees may have salvaged the situation, however. One made sure that the correct products were delivered on the third day. As I write, I’m still waiting to see if the overcharge will be corrected and delivery fee refunded as the other promised. We’ll see after the holiday weekend.

Another local business missed two dates – in one week – to work at my home. The first time, they canceled 30 minutes before our appointment; the second time, they didn’t even bother with that small courtesy.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Microsoft founder Bill Gates

In another case, I had issues with a local business’s billing practices that caused me to receive an unexpected invoice. When I called, the billing person kept quoting company policy to me, not understanding that I was complaining about that policy, not the bill. Finally, I asked to speak to a manager or owner. She gave me the name of an owner and promised he would call. He did not. She called back the next day with the message from that owner that “you owe the money” and acknowledged that he didn’t want to talk to me.

Later, I spoke to another one of the business’s owners, who offered to waive the bill, but insisted that I needed to see things from his perspective. How frustrating! I wasn’t calling to duck the bill, I was calling to suggest a billing policy revision – to get him to see things from my perspective. I sent a check; I’m undecided if I’ll send them more business.

“The question is, then, do we try to make things easy on ourselves or do we try to make things easy on our customers, whoever they may be?” ~ Renaissance political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli

I worked for years in retail and customer service. I know that dealing with customers is hard work. But I also know that any business owes its existence to its customers. So, here are my rules for keeping customers happy – and thereby keeping customers:

  1. Keep your promises.
  2. When something goes wrong, apologize immediately, and fix it even faster.
  3. Take customers’ calls, especially the difficult ones.
  4. Listen to your customers, they’ll tell you how to improve.

“Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business.” ~ Author Zig Ziglar

I want to spend my money locally. I want my sales tax dollars to support my community. But more than that, I want no hassles and no unpleasant surprises. If I can’t get that at locally owned businesses, I’ll find it someplace else.

Perhaps the most valuable service our local chambers of commerce can provide their members is not hosting mixers or endorsing political candidates, but helping them deliver superior customer service.

“There is only one boss: The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” ~ Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton

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