Good Customer Service

customer-serviceweek

I’m not a shopper.  Don’t get me wrong, sure, there are some things that I love to look at (the new Harleys, guitars and gear, stuff at the local Sports Authority, camping gear–pretty much anything you can find in the Bass Pro shop)….but I’ll pass every time if I have to compete with the masses at the local shopping mall.

My home is about a mile and a half away from one of the larger shopping malls in northern California.  It’s a beauty as far as shopping malls go (I think)–it went through a complete renovation a little more than a year ago, and has just about every retail store imaginable.   Fortunately for me, I live in an older, established neighborhood with lots of large trees, brick houses, and pretty decent surroundings.  It’s a nice residential area with many of the homes gated and nicely landscaped.  You wouldn’t know the mall was so close to home, but it is.

Recently I was forced (coerced?) into having to visit this mecca of those enticed by such sparkle and prestige.  It was my wife’s birthday, and yes, as much as I’d prefer it, I wasn’t going to shower her with gifts shipped to home from Bass Pro (which I’ve done before, but more about that some other time…lesson learned).  My wife is great at dropping hints as we near October.  As we get closer to her actual birthday, the list is published, and I spring into action.  Fortunately for me I can often count on one or two of my daughters to assist, and they do a great job of running down that particular item or two….I dole out the cash and off they go.  Usually.

But this time, there was a final item or two that I needed to pick up, and to the mall I went.  I won’t name the store or brand, but it was a women’s wallet that rhymes with “roach”.  Yeah, you get the idea.  So there I am, in the mall, at the store.

It’s a Saturday, so I’m dressed in a pair of camo shorts, a favorite T-shirt (I have a couple of those), ball cap and tennis shoes.  Not a big deal, I thought–just a quick stop.  Nope. As I entered the store, the stares I received said it all–that I really shouldn’t be there, and seriously could probably not afford to be there.  I must be lost.

Basically the net of this short story is that I was met with some disdain and a total lack of customer service.  Despite the purchase I was making (and did make), which was substantial (not crazy, but substantial)–the woman that assisted me treated me as though I was an annoyance, that I was fortunate to even have been allowed in the store to begin with.

Here’s the thing:  whatever happened to good, old fashioned customer service?  I get that many people don’t particularly enjoy working in a retail environment.  I understand that sometimes you have a bad day, or maybe you just aren’t feeling well.  Hey, listen, if I’m a jerk, or rude, or in some way treat you wrongly, I get what I deserve.  But if I come to your establishment, I’m reasonably polite, have my money ready to spend, and just really need some help because I am not an expert in women’s fashion or accessories, what’s the big deal?  Why not be polite back?  Help me, take my money and maybe even say thank you for shopping at your fine location.

Maybe it’s just me (one of my kids suggested that I don’t get out enough) but I get the sense that we’re losing our notion of what customer service should be in our society today.  I know that sounds like a huge generalization.  But this isn’t the first time this type of thing has happened, and I get the sense it won’t likely be the last time.

Let’s have a quick reboot on this idea:  customers are needed, people.  They are a necessity, not an annoyance.  It isn’t enough to simply build a better mousetrap.  You’ve got to have customers to have a business.  That’s true for retail and commercial businesses as well.  We all need paying customers too, happy ones…the kind that tell their friends about our great product and great customer service.

Despite this recent episode, we all have had many positive experiences as well–those times we’ve bought a product, but more than that, we came away actually feeling good about the experience.  In business, we should consider the overall experience of the customer, the perception of the company, and where/how/when we can provide the best possible interaction with those that keep us doing what we do.

Handling Criticism

 

criticism

 

 

“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.” –Elbert Hubbard.

 

How do you handle criticism?  If you’re like me, it depends on a few factors such as the topic of the criticism, the person who is providing the criticism, the value/importance of the criticism and the purpose of the criticism.  Like it or not, one thing we all have in common is that at some point in our career, we will be the recipient of criticism.  So, how do you handle it when it happens to you?  For the purpose of this short perspective, I am referring to valid criticisms.

Recently I was the recipient of some criticism directed towards me regarding the performance of some of my staff.  I listened, offered some responses regarding the particulars and made a point of agreeing with the person who provided me with the input.  I’ll admit it was difficult to absorb, and I came away from the discussion a little disheartened. The messenger was even courteous enough to suggest that I not take it too hard, which I appreciated, but inside, I did.  It felt bad, although it was reasonable and on point, and I walked from the conversation feeling pretty down.

Like a lot of guys (and some gals) in my generation, I grew up playing little league baseball.  For nine seasons I learned the fine art of hitting a curve ball, stretching for errant throws while keeping a foot on first base (my regular position), and dealing with both the triumphs of victory and the painful dismay of losses.  I was a part of teams that played in championships, as well as those that weren’t as fortunate.  But truthfully, I loved every minute of the game.  It was mostly about having fun (for me anyways).

Every season was a different season, and no two years were really ever the same.  Different teammates, different coaches, different team names and colors (my parents still have a framed photo of me, a black and white photo, beaming with pride as I show off my jersey and hat from year one, sporting the words “Lopina Orchards” on the front–our sponsor of the team shirts…yes, San Jose actually had orchards back then).

One lesson that I came away with from my early years was this:  You can’t win them all.  Certainly there is nothing wrong with having a desire to be successful, and I’m as competitive as the next guy ( I organize the fantasy football league for my company) but it’s important for all of us that we recognize there will be losses throughout our career—that’s a given.  And, when we don’t measure up on a particular objective or task, there may also be criticism.

When it does happen, be prepared.  Understand that it is likely not personal (usually it’s not…usually).  And, understand that there is probably some merit to the criticism.  Try to listen and not react immediately with a defensive response.  Take time to understand what is being said, why it’s being said to you, and how/when/where it can be corrected….the key here is to not give up!  Don’t allow the criticism to be the “end of the story” for you.  Take it as an opportunity, and truthfully, it’s okay to be a little thankful to the person that’s delivering the message–it may actually help you become better at what you do. 

In the world today many of us are zealous participants in social media, posting our latest stuff online, texting constantly, writing emails by the score, and sending out updates through Twitter and Instagram….all valid forms of communication…none of which involves active listening on our part.  It’s important for anyone’s career that they develop the ability to listen well.  Valid criticism has a role in our lives.  It can build us personally and professionally, depending on how we choose to listen and learn through it.  Always be open to hearing another person’s perspective, insight or measure of your performance.  By listening well, you will not only learn something new about yourself, but in addition you will be giving yourself an opportunity to grow.