Practical Communication

Customers Have A Thankless Job

What do analog television, $2-a-gallon gas and customer service have in common?

If you guessed extinction, you would be correct. While the TV conversion is probably a good thing in the grand scheme of things, and the gas hikes really can’t be prevented unless you are a Saudi oil baron, quality customer service is something within our control.

It seems, of late, many businesses take their customers for granted. There is a sense that once the customer has walked through the entrance, the hard part is done. A service or product will be exchanged for money no matter what, so how the customer is treated is extraneous. What seems to be forgotten is the adage of how much more difficult it is to attract new customers than it is to keep those already devoted.While the exact number varies, almost every study on the subject agrees it costs much more to attract a new customer — perhaps five to 10 times as much — than it does to keep those loyal patrons.
In addition, the cheapest and most effective form of advertising is word of mouth.
Providing unparalleled customer service is a great way to ensure the flow of new customers will be constant, something any business can use during these tough times.
But word of mouth also can kill a business.
Perhaps the easiest way to make someone feel welcome, whether at a business or during personal interaction, is through a sincere “hello.” Even something as simple as, “Hi, how’s your day going?” can do wonders.
A decline in interpersonal skills — while not entirely so — can largely be seen as a generational shift. Case in point, while dining out recently, I watched as a large group shared a meal and conversation while their children, perhaps four or five pre-teens, sat at the end of the table playing video games.
The games were on after dinner as adult conversation continued; the games were on as the seats were pushed back and the children blindly walked to the exit; and, no doubt, the games were on during the car ride home.
Even those longer car trips, during which families used to discuss what was going on in their lives, play games with each other and enjoy some quiet time with a book, have been replaced with portable DVD players and iPods.
I foresee humans, 200 years from now, unable to look up from generations of staring down at cell phones, laptops, BlackBerries and the ever-evolving portable devices guaranteed to keep us from having to speak. The toenail and shoe polish industry will thrive because our only basis for attraction will be someone else’s feet. Even if we wanted to proclaim our attraction, we would do so through emoticons because our voice boxes will have become obsolete.
Recently, I have decided to throw convenience aside and, despite rising gas prices, I now travel farther from my home for groceries and dining for the sake of customer service.
The grocery store where clerks talk across the aisles before greeting me — sometimes about personal issues not meant for anyone’s ears, let alone a customer’s — will have to do without a fraction of my paycheck.
So to those customers from my past and the ones I still deal with day to day, here’s a saying that hopefully will never become extinct: Thanks.

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