A Simple Smile Will Do

Try this:  Monitor the way your customers are actually treated when they walk into your business and see how you can improve your attention to service.  Or, monitor your own treatment of other people.


So what is the problem with a little common courtesy?  On a recent trip to Arizona, I was amazed at the impatience and rudeness of some customer service providers.  At the hotel, my question about my advance (three months) room reservations that had included a pool-side request was answered three different ways by three different front desk people.  Each person seemed to be increasingly annoyed at my request to have my original reservation details honored.  (They eventually won and I passively kept my room on the fourth floor in the back forty.)

At the airport, the young woman who had me remove my shoes and use her sensitive metal detecting wand over my bare feet was pleasant enough, but the women at the gate were absolutely vicious.  They seemed to be particularly impatient with elderly women who seemed hard of hearing.  This is not a good sign if you work with the public in Arizona.

In the good-old-days of my shoe selling career, more than a quarter decade ago and in a foreign land (Texas), I was taught simple truths that were etched in stone.  “Eye contact and a smile as soon as they walk through the door.”  “If you don’t have what they ask for, offer an option for satisfaction.”  “Listen to what the customer is actually saying and do whatever you can to meet their need.”  “Remember names and preferences.”  “At least make the customer feel as if they are always right so they will come back.” Somehow, I still expect to be treated like a customer when I walk into a business that is an option for my spending.

A loyal, satisfied customer is a valuable commodity. They will not only return, but they will tell others and bring their friends back.  A little bit of kindness goes a long way.  A little bit of rudeness can cost a lot.  I don’t think I will stay again in the hotel in Phoenix we have used four times in the last year.  I will probably still book the cheapest flight, if the difference is more than $30, but all things being equal, I will remember the grumpy women at the Phoenix airport and choose another carrier.  In the grand scope of things, myself as a budget traveler going elsewhere will not make a huge difference in the overall balance sheet of the businesses I am annoyed with.  But, multiplied by others who received the same poor customer service who decide they will look for a more pleasant environment, rude employees cost businesses money.

On the other hand, if I had needed a taxi a second time, I would have requested the young man from Somalia who drove the taxi I rode in from the airport and I would again give him a fairly generous tip for his kindness and interest in my experience in his adopted city.  I would absolutely rent a car from the same company that employs the very polite and attentive Aaron, who said he thought of me when the Cubs’ game was rained out the day he knew I was planning to attend.   The friendly and chatty cashier at the clothing store actually did see me more than once during my visit.  And even though the outstanding sale her store was having was my main motivation, I would not have returned if I had an unpleasant experience on the first visit since my purchases were not, technically, necessities.

I know this is not a unique or new insight, this attention to customer service, but it bears repeating.  In the lean times we are experiencing, maybe customer service will make a come-back.  A bit of competition for our dollars might instigate a surge of concern for the consumer.  Some simple attention to the customers who bring their hard-earned dollars into your business will make a difference.  Training your employees to smile and acknowledge customers is a simple way to improve your sales.  Teaching your staff to give attention to customers can result in a loyal customer base that will return to your business and probably bring their friends.