Ever been to a supermarket and asked how late the store will be open, only to have the clerk reply, “I don’t know,” or, “I’m really not sure?” That kind of answer makes me furious, and could get anyone working for me fired on the spot! I mean hearing that is like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard. That is one of the cardinal sins. For even if you, in fact, don’t know, the appropriate thing to do is to say, “I’m not sure, but I sure can find out. Hold on.” Why am I saying this? A customer’s time and money are important to that customer. Without him or her, you would be out of business.
It is good to remember one key principle in dealing with customers, or clients: “The customer is always right.” The only exception to this rule is when what the customer is asking is illegal, or against company policy. For example, around the year 2000 I worked at a local 7-Eleven. I would work third shift, alone. I would receive such requests as, “Can I use the bathroom?” Company policy is clearly against that sort of thing. So I would say, “I am sorry, but there are no public bathrooms here.” At one point, a girl responded to that by saying, “Well, is there a PRIVATE bathroom?” I had to tell her politely, “I cannot let customers use our bathrooms. Sorry.” I understood her frustration, but I still had to say, “No.”
Another exception to this rule is when the request is against the law. On more than one occasion, for instance, I was asked to sell alcoholic beverages to those who could not show an I.D., or something to tell me whether or not they were 21. I said, “No,” and the person would become furious with me. I had to be firm with my “No,” because what if it was a cop posing as a college student as part of a sting operation? The Cops will test party stores to see if their clerks are in compliance with the law. If I had relented and said, “Yes,” my proprietor could have lost his liquor license, and I could have been fired.
Aside from that, most certainly the customer is always right. I visited a Walgreens at one time. I asked the clerk for a specific favour. “Could you please double the bag?” She did it, but her attitude was beyond rude. “The bag is not going to rip! You don’t have a lot in there!” That wasn’t the point. I wanted my bag to be doubled, because I was traveling by bike, and I have had plastic bags break on me. Being rude and arguing with a customer is an absolute turn-off because if that person’s request is within reason, there is a very good reason why that request is being made. A condition of that customer’s continued trust in, and, consequently, their patronage of, your establishment is that you respect that client’s judgment. If the patron perceives you as being rude, judgmental, or condescending toward him or her, she or he may complain to your boss and you could be fired–or he or she could refuse to come back.
I once learned an important lesson from my boss at that party store: Always, always, always be prepared. If you know that there is a customer who expects to have their cappucino first thing in the morning, at 7:00 a.m, be sure that you have it there at least an hour or two earlier if at all possible. Your job is to please that patron, and keep your business afloat, or keep your boss’s credibility intact. The more customers you keep, the better off you are. You cannot be half asleep, or slacking. For that is a good way to lose business to the Sunny Mart across the street!
You are to behave according to decorum, even if the patron is rude to you. Indeed, many a person has lost a customer service job because he or she yelled back at a customer who was behaving in a disorderly manner. As one boss told me: “We customer service types have to put up with a lot of stuff from our patrons.” For instance, that summer at 7-Eleven, I was asked by one of my patrons: “Are you gay?” I had to still be pleasant to the guy, a guy whom the neighbourhood called the Cigaret Man, because he would always go around begging for cigarettes. (Sidebar: I am very much not gay.)
By the same token, when dealing with a party over the phone, please remember your telephone manners. Be friendly, courteous, yet professional. There are times when you need to be firm when addressing a cantankerous, ill-mannered person on the phone. Many a time, I was asked, “Do you carry Faygo,” for instance. I would answer, ” Sorry, but we don’t.” The party answers, “What store doesn’t sell Faygo? Why don’t you sell it?” In that case, don’t argue with the disgruntled customer, politely hang up.
“Why are you even writing this paper?” you may ask. I am writing this essay because I have experienced customer service that, if I could buy the place and fire them, I would. Consider this example. A certain cab driver acted so rude the last time I visited Detroit with my wife that he got no tip from me. I told him, “I need to stop at the store so I can get change.” I didn’t have exact change, and I didn’t want to give him my very last dollar. He yelled at us like we were nothing but children or dogs. He acted like he didn’t know what I was trying to tell him. He was like, “I don’ t have change! I need a payment from you up front.” And he charged us a ridiculously high price. To travel one or two measly miles, he charged us next to $20.00, using the price of gas as an excuse to be rude, demand up front payment, and gouge the customer. One thing I do not believe in is rewarding lousy service.
One time, just before I got married, I submitted two suits to the cleaners. One couldn’t be finished right away. Did you know that the day I was supposed to pick them up, they charged me full price for both suits, even though the one was not quite done yet? I said, “NO WAY!” I thought to myself, “You’ve got to be out of your rabbit butt mind!” That is an example of unethical business.
Another thing is–if you tell me you can render a service to me, and I find out later that you lied, and try to tell me later that you never said it–then you have lost my business for good. I was told at one point that my tuxedo had been paid for, and it was ready for pickup. Then I was told that it was ready for pickup, but I had to pay an extra almost $18.00 for it. The thing is that my fiancee had paid for it the previous December. The attendant either forgot to give a receipt, or my fiancee lost it. Should not have mattered however. The thing is, there was no record of such a purchase on the computer. Someone there was either half-asleep, or was not doing their job.
There is yet another example of poor customer service that I must also cite. My wife and I live at a certain complex just outside of town. On Saturday, December 6, there was a terrific snowstorm in town. Do you know that at past 1 P.M., my wife and I walk down the hill to the bus stop, and nothing was shoveled? We pay a substantial amount to live there. Let’s say someone slipped and fell, hurting themselves really badly. The relatives of the injured party would indeed be ready to sue, especially if death occurred.
What I am calling here for, indeed, is more responsibility and ethical judgement in the business community. Your continued success in your chosen field of business–whether you are a party store, apartment complex, university, clothing store or other establishment–relies on you doing things in a manner that is decent, in order, and fair. The customer is always right, unless his or her request is illegal or against company policy. Secondly, treat people with dignity and respect. They don’t have to patronize you; they CHOOSE to. Thirdly, make sure you familiarise yourself with the basic facts of your business: your hours of operation, and facts about whether you carry a certain product, and so on. If you don’t know, make sure you can refer the party who is asking questions of you to someone who has those answers. To turn someone away with “I don’t know” is the height of incompetence.
I think that business owners in the 2000s should be reminded of such basic principles as these. Sad but true.
But it all goes back to something we learned at a young age: Treat people the way you wish to be treated, no matter how they treat you.