Steve

Nash

Some time ago I did a column about businesses and organizations that give off immediate “vibes” — sometimes in the first moments of a phone call — as to whether they want to help you or blow you off.

Here’s part deux. My intent is not to tell my own personal story (I’ll save that for Dr. Phil) or single out a business, but rather to show what taking care of customers can mean.

Let’s get right to it. Wife and I bought a product recently which involved this business coming to our home to install it. They did everything right, starting with responding quickly to our interest, getting to our house, doing measurements and giving a price. When we said “you’re hired,” they were Johnson on the spot — got there the next day and did the job.

A day later, a problem occurred — not because there was anything wrong with the product or the job they’d done, but because of something that was 100 percent my fault. Chalk it up to unprofessional cat juggling.

I called the business, not to insist that they do something (because it wasn’t their fault), but to ask for advice as to what I should do. The person who answered the phone would have been justified if he’d put the onus on me and said “you’ll have to do such-and-such to take care of this problem you’ve created.”

Instead, he was a “yes” person. “I’ll call Jerome and have him call you to see what can be done,” he said. That reassuring response told me that “help is on the way!” Less than an hour later, someone from the business was at our house. It took him about 30 minutes to solve the problem which I had created, at no charge. Do you think I’ll be a repeat customer and recommend to others? Bet so.

This was a “yes” business — they found a way to solve a problem (even one they didn’t create) rather than finding a way to not solve it. They saw me as a person (a paying person, to be sure), not as an interruption to shoo away once they had the dough.

I’m not suggesting that every business should be expected to solve problems that aren’t their fault. I’m not a business owner (nor do I play one on TV), but I’d imagine there have to be limits to “the customer is always right” philosophy. So, neither am I suggesting that a business should cave to anything a customer wants.

In contrast, may I relate my experience wth a business that I believe would be franchise of a corporation. Had bought something there; it broke (this one wasn’t my fault) so I called the business to see about getting it repaired. “Call 1-800-g-e-t-l-o-s-t,” I was told.

Called the number, had a lengthy and unsatisfying conversation with a robot, gave up, called a local guy who came and repaired the item.

Later, I happened to be in the same store when an employee told the boss that someone was on the phone with a particular problem.

“Give them the 1-800 number,” the boss said.

What a turn-off. Now, maybe that wasn’t an unreasonable response. Maybe it was the best or only response possible in the circumstances. But is that any way to run an airline?

If you are an organization that deals with the public, do you make it impossible, or nearly so, for someone to call and talk to a human being? Or do you make callers talk to a robot, enduring endless (and mostly useless) phone menus that are managed by other robots?

I worked at a paper that insisted on switching over to an automated phone answering system. It was cumbersome and frustrating for me to call my own paper and get (a.) a human being on the line, and (b.) the human being I actually wanted to speak to. How much harder, I thought, is it for outsiders who don’t know the secret handshake to call and accomplish what they needed?

Many years ago I attended a workplace presentation on something called “lettuce and tomato rules.” There was a very funny video depicting someone in a diner who put in his order — probaby for a hamburger, although I don’t remember for certain — and asked for whatever combination of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, etc., he wanted.

“You can’t have that,” his waitress told him. She explained he could have lettuce with one thing and tomatoes with another — but not both. Why not? It’s the rule — the lettuce and tomato rule. No exceptions, no substitutions.

The point was, do businesses make up so many arbitrary rules that they choke the life right out of their customers?

I’ve had similar experiences when trying to order a quick meal at a grocery store deli. I’ll have some of this … and this … oh, you’re out of that? OK, give me some of this, then.

I can’t have that? Why not?

It’s the rule, bub. The lettuce and tomato rule.