..Ellen Goldhar..

Customer Service

Will the real turkey please stand up...

Michael Thompson was trying to be kind at a near-by supermarket. The store had turkeys on special with a limit of one per customer and Thompson had offered to use his one per customer entitlement to purchase a turkey for the lady standing behind him at the checkout - she needed two for her dinner party that evening.

As he stood in line to pay for the turkey, an employee from the store came over to Mr. Thompson and said, "You can't buy that turkey. I heard your conversation with that woman about buying her a turkey - she already has a turkey and it's only one per customer."

Shocked, Thompson said, "But I am buying it, not her, and what I choose to do with it is my business. If I give it to someone who's homeless would that be a problem to?"

"No, that would be fine," said the clerk, "but I know you're not doing that - you are giving it to her and she already has one. Other customers are going to come to buy a turkey and there won't be any left."

In total disbelief, Thompson held up his credit card and said, "This is my credit card and I am going to use it to buy this turkey and while I do that I suggest you go out back and sit with the turkeys - they just might teach you something about customer service!"

If you read this story and support the store clerk, or even worse, if you were the clerk, you might want to check yourself into Customer Service 101. Behaviour like the clerk's is sometimes referred to as a CLM - career limiting move.

Even if he was right, his behaviour was wrong, because of the potential loss of business from Michael, the lady he was buying the turkey for, and from on-lookers. When there's a myriad of choices as to where to shop, why go where you, the customer, aren't appreciated.

Today, with more and more competition in all industries, sometimes the only thing separating one company from the other is customer service. Many companies, like the airline Westjet, realize this.

"The customer is not an inconvenience; they're here to keep us in business. Our goal is to sell airplane seats and keep them coming back. The clerk's goal was to sell turkeys not keep them," says Siobhan Vinish, director of public relations and communication for Westjet.

"There are always policies and procedures that you have to keep, but you also have to be flexible, because when you do something that benefits the client that act in turn benefits the company and positively affects future business," says Vinish.

Studies have shown that most companies lose customers approximately 70- 80% of the time because someone was rude, indifferent, or discourteous to them - not because of the product itself.

Unhappy customers have a strong emotional connection to your company, and are more likely to talk with friends and associates. An unhappy customer will tell 10 to 15 people of their experience.

Here are some Westjet customer service suggestions:

  • Smile
  • Offer assistance not resistance
  • Remember the Golden Rule
  • Listen to the customer
  • Deal with the situation - don't slough it off
  • Empower employees to make decisions and flex on policy
  • Be open to options to solve problems
  • Drop the "it's not my job" attitude

In reality it's not about being right or being wrong. When you have a choice to be right or to be kind always choose kind - and that's customer service in a nutshell!

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Ellen Goldhar is a professional business coach/consultant and can be contacted at ellen.goldhar@rogers.com.

Links to her previous columns:
Managing in Grey.
How to Ruin Your Life.