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Treat Your Customers Like Potential Girlfriends

July 26, 2009

Last Monday I sent a project proposal for TypeTribe web development to a company called Intridea. 6 days later, and I still haven’t heard anything from them. Not a word. Not even a confirmation of receipt. In this economy.

This absolutely, positively bewilders me. Most business spend a significant portion of their operating budgets trying to reach new customers. When a customer finds you and tells you they want to pay you for your services, how do you not respond?

My philosophy on customer service is that you treat every potential customer like a potential girlfriend. You meet a girl, you get her number, you call her up to ask her out. When do you call? Countless movies and books have made a big deal about the rules regarding when a guy will call a girl, but I really think it’s as simple as this: If the guy’s interested, he’ll get in touch with you within a day or two. We’re guys–we’re not idiots. If we’re excited about the prospect of going out with you sometime, we’ll let you know we’re interested.

Customer service is no different. The message that Intridea is sending me is that they’re not interested. I talked about this with Nancy, and she pointed out that the owners of the company could be on vacation or there could be a death in the family or something unexpected. The thing is, it takes about 20 seconds to set your e-mail autoresponder to “Out of office. We appreciate your proposal, and we’ll get back to you on July 27.”

The issue goes beyond this web-based businesses. About a month ago I was in Best Buy–which usually has great customer service–to pick up a new TV. There were two people behind the customer service counter. One was helping the only other customer in line, and the other was…well, it looked like she was trying really hard to look busy. The first woman had done the right thing and told me that she’d be with me in a minute (again, that phrase makes a big difference), but as I stood there for 5, then 10 minutes, not only was the other woman not really doing anything, but she was actively ignoring me. You know what I mean–avoiding eye contact, walking more briskly than normal, etc. Yes, she was literally walking back and forth right in front of me, not acknowledging me at all. She was on the phone for part of that time, but she could have looked up and given me a look or something.

I’m not trying to sound like the victim here. I easily could have said something to this woman instead of getting pissed off about it. But honestly, I didn’t know what this woman’s job function was. I didn’t want to assume that she had the ability to help me (as it turned out, she did). Literally, all she had to do was look up and acknowledge me, and I wouldn’t be telling you this story.

I don’t want to point a finger at Best Buy. A similar situation happened at Walgreens a week ago. Not as pronounced, but still irking. I just don’t understand how you actively ignore someone who’s standing right in front of you. And frankly, I understand that there are some people who you really want to ignore. The people who want to interrupt you, pull you away from what you’re doing or talk with you while you’re in the middle of something. I am not one of those people, nor do I come off as one. When I’m in a Walgreens, the last thing I want to do is hang around and chat.

I want to end on a happy note. I was twice pleasantly surprised by the customer service at the Richmond Heights Schnucks today. First, I went to the deli counter and ordered some Boar’s Head turkey, thinly sliced. The woman cut one slice and held it in front of me, asking if it was thin enough. I said it was. She then did something that no one has ever done for me before at Schnucks. She asked me if I’d like to sample that slice while she cut the rest of the turkey. I hardly ever ask for samples or even take free samples when they’re out in grocery stores, but I was so caught off guard by this special service that I took the slice.

Then, later after I finished checking out, the cashier asked me if I needed any help taking my bags out to the car. Obviously I didn’t, but it was the thought that counts (I’m guessing that Schnucks has a new rule where they offer this service to all customers).

I walked away from the grocery store literally beaming. How often does that happen at a grocery store, particularly one that you’ve gone to every week for the last 6 years?

Of those four businesses, I have a feeling that Schnucks and I have a beautiful relationship in our future.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. Bryce permalink
    July 27, 2009 7:07 am

    Hey Andy Rooney, nice gripe blog! Its clear that you need to abandon big box and national chain stores and start visiting more mom and pop businesses if you demand such high customer service. What incentive does the minimum wage employee at Walgreens have to treat you well? They’re going to get their $7/hr whether you come back there or not. I think you are counting on their human goodness to make them feel obliged to be polite, but come on they’ve been standing behind the counter in their dopey CVS vest for 8 hours helping punks like you. Are they really in the mood to be polite to you? Now, I’m not blaming you and I’m not blaming them, but its the system. You need to visit small business where the employees have more to gain from your business.

    And how often do I get samples at the deli and my groceries taken to the car? Every time I go to the grocery store. Thank you Ukrop’s for being the best thing ever.

    ps. did anyone notice that I used all three versions of there/their/they’re in one sentence? C’mon, that’s awesome!

    • July 27, 2009 4:19 pm

      Just because an employer doesn’t offer incentives for good customer service doesn’t mean they can’t. At Zingerman’s, employees are allowed to give themselves (or other employees) pats on the back to their superiors, and the superiors respond well, showing that they value good customer service. When you and I worked at the movie theater, I’d say we gave customer service–not because we had to, but because that’s how people deserve to be treated.

      • Bryce permalink
        July 29, 2009 7:01 am

        But we are good people Jamey and you can’t expect everyone to be good people without an incentive. And lets be honest I was only giving fast and courteous service so that I could people out of the line so I could get back to eating the free popcorn and drinking the free coke (in the cup that I brought from home) because contrary to popular belief I did NOT get tired of delicious buttery popcorn no matter how much I was around it and no matter how much I ate and no matter how much I took home with me after my shift. And yes, on multiple occasions I took home popcorn in what some would consider a “ten gallon garbage bag” but what to me was a perfectly normal popcorn bag and I don’t see any problem with it.

        And you were only providing “good service” because you like to pat down 80 year old women.

        So we did have incentives, just not financial ones.

        • July 29, 2009 10:58 am

          Incentives, it’s all about incentives. I remember those days fondly. No place makes popcorn like Carmike does. I ate an incredible amount of popcorn that summer. That actually was a decent incentive for dealing with customers quickly and efficiently.

  2. Nancy permalink
    July 27, 2009 5:26 pm

    Didn’t you give an 80-year-old woman a pat-down because you suspected that she was sneaking in her own popcorn?? I guess that could be looked at as customer service!

    • July 27, 2009 9:11 pm

      Hey! That woman lied to my face multiple times. No one brings outside food or drink into my house! (Unless, that is, they’re literally bringing food or drink to my house. Then it’s fine. Especially if cookies are involved.)

  3. Bob permalink
    July 27, 2009 7:08 pm

    Schnucks…the friendliest stores in town, baby!

  4. T-Mac permalink
    July 28, 2009 6:28 am

    I find it interesting that Nancy’s response to your lack of response from Intridea was that they might be on vacation or have a death in the family. Was that really her response, or did you put that in there to be humorous because that is the stereotypical female response to not getting a call from a guy after him her number? (See “He’s Just Not That Into You”…yes, I did see it, and I’m willing to admit it for the betterment of the blog.)

    • July 28, 2009 7:49 am

      Trev, you’re totally right–and no, I didn’t make that up! That was her real reaction. Maybe that’s not a stereotype. Maybe it’s true.

      • Nancy permalink
        July 29, 2009 7:57 am

        Ok, I now must defend myself b/c I’m nothing like that crazy lady in “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Jamey was telling me how much he liked this particular guy’s work and that he’d be perfect for TypeTribe. Then he basically said, if this guy doesn’t e-mail me back by tomorrow (so 1.5 days to respond) I’m dropping him and moving on to someone else. I thought that was a little harsh esp. if he really likes the guy’s work and TypeTribe would benefit from him! So I was trying to defend the guy’s lack of response via electronic mail by saying he could be on vacation. It’s the summer! People are on vacation! I called a woman trying to set up tennis lessons with her and she didn’t call me back for a week! Wanna know why? She was on vacation! My point is have a little faith in people. Don’t write them off so quickly.

        • Bryce permalink
          July 29, 2009 8:25 am

          I have two important things to say:

          1. I thought all women were like the women in He’s Just Not That Into You. I mean, I haven’t seen/read it, but I thought the whole point of the book/movie was that it represented every woman who ever lived.

          2. I also just got a call this morning from a dude that I was trying to buy something from, I called him last Tuesday. Reason for the delayed response…vacation. Apparently vacations are a real thing and they really do take people away from their phone/email. I would not know about this personally, but it seems, by anectdotal evidence, to be a very real phenomenon.

        • July 29, 2009 10:56 am

          Nancy speaks the truth, although it’s essentially what I said, just a slightly different timeframe. And I still haven’t heard back from that company.

          And yes, I hear from both of you that people go on vacation. That doesn’t make it good business. Seriously, how hard is it to put up an away message? Or, if you’re afraid that people are going to take that info and break into your home when you’re away, go virtual with a BlackBerry or iPhone.

  5. Red permalink
    July 29, 2009 11:30 am

    Sorry so late to chime in. Haven’t been reading recently. I was NOT on Vacation (people still get vacation time???).

    1) While I am sure that Jamey did appropriate research before approaching this possible client, they had no idea. To them, you may just be another kook trying to get them to buy something. BTW, “In this economy”??? No one is looking to spend money “in this economy.”
    2) Incentives.
    Bryce… We have to believe in the goodness of humanity, or we become curmudgeons. Curmudgeons don’t get popcorn. Don’t be one.
    “Do good things and good things will happen to you” (-My Name is Earl), Karma, The Golden Rule, whatever you want to call it. NOT a natural law. Rather a social philosophy. Everyone draws their own line. Another social law, if you are being paid to serve (whether your currency is Dolla Billz, popcorn or geriatrics) then do it, or expect to be fired.
    4) Is 1.5 weeks too late to call her?
    5) Richmond Center Schnucks is the BEST grocery store in STL.

    SAN DIMAS HIGH FOOTBALL RULES!

    • July 29, 2009 12:04 pm

      Hey, thanks for your 5 cents. I may have to disagree with your first point, though. A potential client is a potential client. I submitted the standard form on the Intridea website regarding what I was looking for. Even if they were deterred by something–say, the price range I was looking for–they could have done better than what they did by responding and saying they couldn’t accept the project.

      It’s never too late to call her. But if it took you 1.5 weeks to call, that might be a signal to yourself that you’re just not that into her.

      • Red permalink
        July 29, 2009 12:31 pm

        Unless I muisunderstand the working relationship you are looking for, they would be your client. If they are paying you, they get to take as much time as they want.

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