Under the Wire
March 18, 2020
A friend of mine runs a pretty fair sized company for our neck of the woods. The company is old, the friend is relatively young. The mix is interesting. There are good features to a company being around a long time. If they’ve been in business that long, it must be a pretty sound outfit providing a necessary service.
There also are disadvantages to a company being around since dirt was invented. The company can start to take their customers for granted. That’s probably why they hired my young friend to run it. His youthful enthusiasm brings a modern ‘spark’ to the old cobwebs.
My self-appointed position in this is to be an annoying critic of both my young friend and the old company, to whom I’ve mailed a monthly check it seems my entire adult life.
Recently he told me about a new concept he had in introduced to his employees. Full of the wide-eyed enthusiasm that makes me like him, he described the idea that was grudgingly being accepted by his employees. His idea it seems, was to begin doing little extras for their customers. “Customer service” I believe was the catch phrase he used. Excitedly he explained how he wanted his employees to take an extra minute or two, if that’s what it took, to be sure the people who paid his own and employees salaries were happy with being one of their customers.
“Take a moment to make them feel like they were the only customers you have to take care of,” he instructed them. Most of his people embraced the idea and were enjoying the surprised and pleased responses from those they serve. A few employees didn’t really care for the directive. It seems it made them late getting back to the shop to pick up their pay check.
I hated to dampen my friend’s spirits, but I had to point out his idea, while wonderful, was not new. Years ago, before he was tall enough to reach his desktop, this was the way nearly all business treated their customers. Sadly, however, over the years the practice has been replaced by an operating theory I call “Everybody one time.” Get everybody in your business once, treat them rudely and don’t worry. They will either swallow their pride and come back or be replaced by someone else who will love the chance to be ignored while attempting to spend money with you.
This is an easy concept to teach to employees. No verbal skills required, no eye contact necessary. In fact, just show up, stand around, ask for an occasional raise, then leave. Employees on this program didn’t even need to worry about looking for a better job. It seems these businesses tend to close down rather frequently, affording workers a chance to look for a new career.
If my young friend’s idea catches on (and I hope it does), one problem will develop. Where do you find experienced people to teach these ‘new’ skills? Don’t worry, I have a solution. These people exist in surprising places. You just have to know where to look. Look for a family cattle operation that sells bulls at a yearly production sale and then ask if they may deliver the bulls to the buyer, just so they can see where they live.
Look for a small horse sale who guarantees every horse to be sound and exactly as they say it is or you get your money back. Those folks understand customer satisfaction. While you’re at it look for most small, family run businesses, especially in rural areas. They work with a small, fragile customer base and realize the value of a loyal customer.
Having figured all this out, I felt pretty smug being ‘mature’ enough to remember and remind my young, very attentive friend. It was days later before I even had the thought ... were we really that good of friends or had he just taken a few extra minutes to make me feel like we were? Son-of-a-gun ... it works.