Does customer service still matter in a down economy? You bet it does.
I may love to wander the aisles of Whole Foods – gaze at the gorgeous flowers, the succulent fruits, the arrays of fresh vegetables in vibrant colors. But regular fare is a matter of Safeway, Kroger, or Publix – shopping according to a balance of budget and convenience.
I tend to frequent the same locations; I like knowing Mary in produce, who goes out of her way to make me the salad I want. And always with a smile. I love that Mildred and Karen ask how the kids are doing as I go through the check-out line. I also go to the same Starbucks, where I know Louis will show me his latest poems, and I always return to the hairdresser who made a “house call” after I had surgery, 17 years ago.
It’s about customer service. And customer service is about relationship – for a single transaction, a few minutes of exchange, or maybe, for years. It’s good for business and it’s good for the spirit.
FACT: A hello by name, a familiar face, a big smile – are worth plenty. Those small connections bring people back to the same commercial establishments, particularly in the case of otherwise comparable prices and commodity items.
Last night, on the way home from a movie, I remembered that I needed a gallon of milk and French bread. I passed a Trader Joe’s. This was not my part of town, and not one of my regular stops.
I decided to pop in, have a look, and pick up my two items.
I grabbed a cart (just in case) and meandered the aisles. I found great muenster (reasonably priced), fresh baguettes (competitively priced), and palmiers – a tasty, crunchy French pastry – that looked pretty authentic. I added a bag of organic baby spinach, whole grain bread, then milk, and I was happily into the check-out line.
The cashier was a middle-aged man with a cherub-like face and toothy grin. “How are you this evening?” he asked. He said it like he meant it.
“Great!” I replied (buoyed by a good film and the thought of those pastries). “I was a Trader Joe’s virgin – but you’ve got a lot of terrific stuff I didn’t expect – and not at outrageous prices.”
He laughed, and next thing I knew, he clanged what looked like a giant ship’s bell by the register, and shouted out “New Trader Joe’s customer! First time and she likes it!”
I cracked up as he was ringing me up, and he added: “Since you’re new to our store, you can choose – complimentary chocolate or go grab yourself some flowers.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“I mean it,” he continued. “Chocolate or flowers. On us. What would you like?”
I laughed again. I would’ve loved some chocolate, but I had just bought pastries. Besides, chocolate lasts five minutes; flowers last five days. So I scurried over to the buckets of fresh cut daisies and mums, picked out a $5 mixed bouquet, and scooted back as he was bagging up my purchases.
“Is this really okay?” I asked, showing him the bouquet I had chosen.
“Of course!” he said. “And come back and visit us any time!”
I left with my flowers, my groceries, and an energetic bounce in my step. I’m likely to return to that location for more than a bit of cheese and bread. And all because of the personalized service of one man.
FACT: The cheery manner, the sense of humor, the spontaneous “give away” will garner a return customer. Customer service is more than good business, it’s a moment of connection. Something we all need, even in the best of times.