Service Secrets From the Neighborhood

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There are now three bagel shops in my hometown, two of which are fairly rudimentary in nature: They sell bagels, cream cheese, and coffee. Good bagels, but nothing fancy. The third store is part of a large, Boston-area chain, and the bagels there are also good. The store often has children's entertainment, has a large seating area with games, free newspapers, and room to spread out and relax. Last, and most important, it has a system that consists of a conveyor belt running across the length of the counter--between the register and the "schmearing" operation--with a huge circular saw in the center. As bagels are ordered they are tossed onto the conveyor, sliced in half by the saw, and travel at high speed to the end of the conveyor. In other words, store number three isn't just a bagel store, it's entertainment as well. But that store has lost my business. The system has one critical flaw: It puts huge pressure on the employees, who in turn make mistakes that impact the customers. At least 30 percent of the time we order from this store, the order is wrong. And the schmearers at store number three are probably the most stressed cream cheese--appliers ever. The look of terror on their faces from the constant pressure of the sliced bagels whizzing down the conveyor toward them is similar to the look I've seen on the faces of customer service reps in oh-so-many call centers. Does this happen in your call center? Think about it. The system that makes store number three so very profitable just cost it what I'd argue is a pretty profitable customer. There's also a hardware store in my hometown (actually, two). In the next town, there is a Home Depot, which I've frequented many a weekend, but not anymore. Our kitchen sink had been leaking on and off for six months, though the leak had been patched. The prospect of standing in line at Home Depot yet again, waiting for service and searching through what seemed like thousands of O-rings to find the right one, was not what I had planned for the weekend. So I changed my plan, and went to my local hardware store. As expected, the prices were at least two times what Home Depot charges, but the service was fabulous, particularly the part when the plumbing department manager suggested a little trick that would prevent the O-ring from failing. I took my expensive O-ring, went home, tried his suggestion, and five minutes later was finished. Not a drop since. The moral of the story? Service counts--more than ever. I assure you I am a customer who would go waaay out of his way to save a few dollars, but I've also come to realize that my time is equally as valuable. Save me time and don't cause me problems, and you'll not only win my business, I'll even pay you a premium for your products. It's easy to lose sight of the basics with all the flashy technology available, but if you think customer service isn't critical to your business--and your profits--drop by Needham, MA, sometime and I'll buy you a bagel and walk you through one awesome, old-school hardware store. Chris Selland, managing director of Reservoir Partners, founded the consultancy and research firm in October 2001. Selland helps companies define, prioritize, and execute customer-facing relationship management strategies. Contact him at cselland@reservoirpartners.com
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