Tag Archives: business

How To Be A Good Customer (And Get What You Want)

All businesses are customer service businesses, whether you’re selling widgets or repairing plumbing.  You can’t do business in a vacuum.  You need customers, therefore, it goes without saying that it’s in your best interests to make them happy.  However, here’s a tip: you don’t necessarily need all of them.

I’ve been a manager in the business world for something like 30 years, 22 of them in the business I’m currently in, which makes me the Complaint Department.  But I’m also a customer of many other businesses, and my own customers have taught me everything I know about how to be a good customer, mostly by behaving badly.  I’d say my success rate is much higher than theirs.

Locally there is a business consultant named Jerry Osteryoung.  Here are a few of his qualifications:  Jim Moran Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurship and Professor Emeritus of Finance at Florida State University; book author; newspaper contributor; consultant to over 3,000 businesses.  He used to write a weekly column for the Tallahassee Democrat, primarily about how to deal with customers and employees.  His viewpoint was a breath of fresh air.

The subject of one of his articles was the meme “The customer is always right.”  His take on that?  Who says?  Whose bright idea was that, anyway?  I almost jumped for joy when I read this article.  He said, the customer is always right, until they aren’t.  Sometimes, he said, the best thing to do is cut your losses.  Part of the old meme was “research” showed a customer who had a bad experience with you would tell 11 people, whereas a customer who had a good experience would tell 3 (if any).  So a lot of attention was focused on bad experiences, out of fear of losing not just one, but eleven customers.  Jerry said, sometimes you just have to say, “Clearly I can’t make you happy, so it would probably be best for us both if you found another provider”.  First, of course, you have to try.  You have to listen.  You have to ask yourself sincerely whether you or one of your employees did something wrong, and even if not, whether you could have done something better.  You have to give the customer the benefit of the doubt.  Neither Jerry nor I are talking about blowing off customers, which would be suicidal.  But it is entirely true that some customers will never be happy unless they are not only made whole for their perceived bad experience, but be in better shape than they were before.  I have two favorite illustrations of this principle, one I only learned of this week.

First,  I have a friend who works in the Customer Service Department for Carnival Cruise Lines.  He once got a call from a customer who wanted the entire price of his two-week cruise refunded, because one night, they served shrimp for dinner.  Not that he’s allergic to shrimp.  He just doesn’t like it.  And there was another option.  The customer’s point was that since he doesn’t like shrimp, that left him with only one option instead of two, so he “deserved” to have his entire fee refunded.  My friend gave him the standard response, “I’m sorry.  We’ll give you a 10% discount on your next cruise”.  The customer demanded to talk to a supervisor.  He got the standard supervisor response–“I’m sorry.  We’ll give you 20% off your next cruise”.  And that was the end of the line for him.  No amount of threatening to call the President of the company, posting evil things about Carnival on Facebook, or telling all his friends and family to boycott Carnival forever was going to get him any further, because what he wanted was unreasonable.

Example #2:  A restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina accidentally served sangria to a toddler, who took two sips before someone realized the mistake.  The family finished their meal, then “rushed” the toddler to the ER an hour later.  Wisely, the restaurant manager went with them.  The manager says the ER said the child was indeed sick, but from an upper respiratory infection.  The family says it was alcohol poisoning.  I’m quite sure the meal was free, since the restaurant acknowledged the mistake.  So what else does the family want.  My guess is, the keys to the restaurant.  They will lose.  But the attitude here and in many other cases is, “It doesn’t hurt to try, right?”  Well, yes, it does.

The impetus for this post is that a friend of a friend person on Facebook has had a very frustrating week with customer service issues.  I sort of half-jokingly offered to post tips, which in fact I will never do, because I don’t think she would like them.  They would work, but she still wouldn’t like them.  Understand, this is a lovely woman, in all the ways we mean that in the South.  Beautiful, elegant, well-educated, a former college instructor, very artistic.  But she is having difficulty navigating the outside world.  She has two main issues.  She can’t find the light bulbs she wants after going to two major hardware stores.  She feels dismissed by them, as they don’t seem to want to help her (they’ve tried to explain to her why, but it’s unacceptable to her).  She feels she has been deceived by ATT, since she accepted a “bundle”, and got a new telephone which won’t work if the power goes out.   Her solution has been to write letters to the Presidents/ Chairmen of the companies.

I may not be able to post these tips on Facebook, but I can do it here.

1.  Lose the entitlement attitude.  No, the customer is not always right, and that may include you.

2.  Ask yourself if you have truly been wronged, or if you want something because you’re special.

3.  If you’ve truly been wronged, make them want to help you.  You ask.  You don’t demand.  You don’t threaten.  “I’m never coming back here!” (Okay, we won’t miss you.)  “I’m writing the President of your company!” (Please do, I want you to tell him how much you hate shrimp.) “I’ll have your job!” (Good luck with that.)

4.  Ask yourself what you would be satisfied with if you don’t get everything you want.  A friend recently asked that question about the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri.  The Justice Department determined that major changes were needed in the police department, and a half-dozen high officials in the city have resigned–but people are still protesting.  So, what is it you want?  When will you know you’re happy?

These are just the bare bones of how to be a good customer.  You can follow them or be permanently outraged, which is an unfortunate way to live.  Life is short.

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To Work or Not To Work?

That is the question.
I have to start thinking about it, whether I like it or not. Even writing this makes me anxious. Of course, a lot of things make me anxious, so what’s new?
For the non-U.S. readers here, here’s how it works: people who work pay into a government fund called “Social Security”. The law establishing it took effect in 1935. When you work, a certain amount of each paycheck goes into the fund. When you reach a certain age (currently, 62), you become eligible to start getting that money back in monthly installments.
That’s the simplistic explanation. Age 62 is the earliest you can begin receiving retirement benefits (earlier if you are disabled, but that’s a whole other topic), but you only get a percentage at that age, currently 75%, Depending on when you were born, your “full” retirement age, at which you get 100% of your benefits, is later. In my case, age 66. And I’m almost there. And I don’t want to retire.
I know a couple of people who are recently retired, others who have been retired for a while, and many others who haven’t yet retired but are greatly looking forward to it. But I wonder, what would I do with myself? And I like the validation that work brings.
Last week I met with a bunch of contractors and a developer regarding an operation I’m about to be in charge of. It was about eight guys and me…not uncommon in my business. The contractor guys were like a bunch of chained pit bulls. Teeth bared, waiting for signs of weakness from the other guys, lots of testosterone flying around. Once the growls and the posturing died down, developer guy would turn to me and say, “Do you think this idea will work?” That was very cool. Where else would I get that?
Later, in the elevator, developer guy said he wanted to thank me because he so appreciated my advice and counsel. As long as I can continue to get that sort of reaction, and form those sorts of relationships, I’m safe.
But the reality is…I am getting older. My company can’t fire me for being old, but they can fire me for failure to perform. I’m a manager. I know how this works. And I fear that will happen at some point, but I don’t want it to.

Sunday Afternoon at the Liquor Store

So I went to buy a bottle of wine, as I often do on Sunday, and the smart-ass young kid at the counter said, “Be sure to hold the bag by the bottom.”  As they always say.  And I know what they mean, having been a victim of the bottle of wine falling out of the bottom of the bag and smashing to smithereens in my driveway.  When I went back to complain, they said they couldn’t help me.  Carry at your own risk. 

Today I was apparently in a more combative mood than usual, so I said in reply, No offense, but you guys use the flimsiest bags on the planet.  Smart-ass guy said, we know that, but our bag supplier is the only one available.  Um, no, I said, ever hear of the Internet?  (Speaking of being a smart-ass.)

So Smart-ass guy says, we know…but if we bought from someone else, then we wouldn’t be supporting local business.  And if I said, if local business can’t give you what you need, then that’s their problem, not yours.  He must be related to the cheapskate owner. 

If they got a supplier of sturdy bags, then their employees would not have to constantly tell people to beware.  Not that I’m sure it matters, since they accept no liability. 

I find myself, in this case, defending the advantages of globalization.