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Customer Service at your peril

Witness Post: Customer Service

I have an BA and an MBA and spent 30-years in business and industry. After our 3 daughters graduated from college, I returned to school to get a master’s in education. Today, I am in my 5th year teaching business at Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon.

Each year, after school, from October thru March, I volunteer as an assistant wrestling coach for the school. This year (2018-2019) the roster had 27 boys and 12 girls. Yup, 12-girls on the Lincoln team.

At the end-of-season Wrestling “Banquet,” held at a pizza joint, the coaches get “roasted” and grateful parents chipped-in for Gift Cards. This year, the card was to a well-known athletic apparel company. You need a “pass” to get into the store and then, you get SUPER discounts on cool gear.

A few weeks ago, my wife, Tracy, and I took the Gift Card to buy some running gear.

When we got to the check-out and the cashier finished the transaction, she said, “You have money left on your Gift Card.”

“We do? Great. There’s something else we wanted, so we’ll run back to get it.”

“No. Sorry. You can’t buy anything else after you’ve already checked-out. You need another guess pass. And return another day.”

“But we’re HERE. Can’t we buy it now?”

“Nope, our policy is that customers can’t buy another item once they’ve checked-out. You need to secure another guest pass.”

“Wow. Could we talk with your Manager, please?”

Then over the loudspeaker, “Jim, customer complaint at check out #8.”

All eyes suspiciously glanced over at the troublemakers at check out #8.

“Hi, Jim. We have some extra money left on a Gift Card, and we’d like to buy one more item to use up the money.”

“Sorry. You can’t buy another item after you’ve checked-out. You have to get another guest pass. You can imagine how these passes and gift cards get abused.”

“Jim, we hear you, but, since we’re here, could you make an exception?”

“Well, OK. I guess that since you are already here … but only this time.”

“Thanks, Jim.”

As we walked out of the store, Tracy said, “Would it have killed the cashier to say, ‘Let me see what I can do. I’ll talk with my Manager. I bet we can work something out!’”

What does satisfactory customer service look like? What about extraordinary customer service?

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The next day, I put on my cool new gear and my wife and I headed out for an early morning hike in the Columbia River Gorge. The Gorge separates Oregon and Washington and is a hikers paradise!

We packed the essentials: water, lunch, and sunscreen. And, we grabbed our driver’s licenses and a credit card.

As we headed towards the Hood River Toll Bridge, to get to the trailhead, we saw a big sign. Cars: $2. EasyPass or Cash only.

Whaaatt? We had no FastPass and didn’t bring any cash. So, we scrounged thru the glove box and found $1.75 in change.

Image result for hood river bridge $2 toll sign

No problem, we thought.

“Let’s go to that CITGO gas station.”

“We don’t offer cash-back, but you can try the ATM (pointing over there), if you have your debit card.”

“Our debit card is at home.”

“Sorry….”

“How about the Shell station across the street?”

“Nope. They don’t do cash-back either. Try Walmart, a few miles down the road.”

So we drove to Walmart. Bought toilet paper, because we needed to buy something. And, when we got to the cashier, she said, “Hello, beautiful people.”

“Hello!”

“Do you offer cash back?”

“Sure, if your credit card gives you that prompt.”

I inserted my card chip. No prompt for cash back.

We looked at each other, bewildered. Do we have to drive back to Portland??

The cashier smiled: “What do you two need?”

“We need 2-bucks….To cross the bridge. To go on a hike in the Gorge.”

And with that, she reached into her pocket, pulled out some money, and handed us a $5 bill.

“$2 to get over and $2 to get back.”

We were stunned.

“Wow! Thank you so much. This is unbelievable. How do we repay you? Can we buy you anything?”

“Oh, I’m happy to help. Have a great time out there on your hike today!”

As we walked out of Walmart, I stammered, “What was THAT?

“THAT,” said Tracy, “Was customer service! We didn’t even ask her name…”

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Two-days, two giant corporations and two vastly different customer service experiences.

It didn’t cost Walmart a dime or take that cashier any extra time to provide exceptional customer service. 

Incivility’s toll on customer relationships can be staggering. Research by Valerie Folkes and Debbie MacInnis at the University of Southern California shows that many consumers are less likely to buy from a company they perceive as uncivil, whether the rudeness is directed at them or other employees. Witnessing one quick negative interaction leads to generalizations about other employees, the organization, and even the brand. In the wake of employee complaints of incivility, harassment, and a toxic environment at Uber, for example, customers have shared that they’ve turned to their competitors. An organization’s reputation for how they treat employees strongly affects customer support and loyalty.

At the end of our hike, several hours later, we drove back to Walmart. Our idea was to buy the compassionate cashier, a $10 gift card. $5 for her and maybe $5 to pay is forward again.

She refused. “No no. I don’t need the money.”

Really? “Please take it. We want to give it to you as a thank you.”

“No. No. No. It is against company policy.”

“Tell us,” I asked, “What is it that makes you so generous?”

She said, “I was an orphan, in Korea. And when I came to the United States, people sent me letters at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And they were so kind. So when I joined Walmart 14 ½ years ago, I started giving to the United Way, so I could give back.”

“I don’t have much money in my wallet, but I’m a billionaire in my heart.”

Image result for asian female billionaire in heart

A billionaire at heart