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Sunday, February 19, 2012


Being an ex-salesman, I can appreciate a recent column by business writer Harvey MacKay.  Mackay knows his way around the business world and has the dough to prove he has been successful.

He says that “Customer service is crucial to success.”  I couldn’t agree more.  For twenty years, I called on the grocery trade in the Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska areas.  My job was to sell packaging products to grocery stores and the warehouses that supplied them.  It wasn’t like I was the only one in that business; I had plenty of competition.

In the grocery business, the warehouse buyers are busy guys who don’t like to spend a lot of time on secondary items like supplies.  Seeing that situation, I seized upon it by making it as easy as possible for my buyers to buy from me instead of my competition.  I did that by earning their trust which is a large part of customer service.  They knew they could count on me to ship to them on time and follow up on any problems.  My motto to them was simple:  “If you have any problem at your warehouse or stores, call me and I will have it handled within 24 hours at the latest.”

My method worked great:  I had the buyers’ trust, gave them fast and efficient service, and as a commission paid salesman, made excellent money.

Mr. MacKay’s advice is important to remember.  You are in the customer service business no matter what you sell.  You may have a restaurant with the greatest food in the world but you will not make it if your service is bad.  Even if you have great food and happy employees you can still fail if you are tied down with idiotic rules and procedures.  They will irritate customers as much as bad food.

When hiring, always select the “A” players and be sure you have great training in customer service from A to Z.  It takes a lot of time but is well worth the effort.

I live in Scottsdale, Arizona and we have a great chain of bakeries/delis called Paradise Bakery.  At lunch time people are lined up to eat their great fare.  The lines can get long so to ease the anxiety of some customers, they have a smiling employee walk the line giving small samples of hot bread to customers.  It’s a small thing but customers love it!  That company “gets it.”

One of my annoyances is when a clerk is incapable of counting change.  It is pretty typical today with registers that tell the clerk what the change should be.  That’s no excuse; I wouldn’t have an employee who can’t count change.  However, to top that, one day at McDonald’s, a clerk refused to take a 50 cent piece from me until the manager told her it was OK.

Welcome to 21st century America!


mike slater said...

Jim, I learned to make change from my grandma that owned a burger joint on 16th st just south of Camelback back in the 60's. I remember one time I stopped at Jack in the Box for lunch when I paid the girl she didn't give me the right change. She had to call the manager over and he couldn't figure it out. I finally explained to them the money I gave to them minus the cost of the food was what my change should be.

ArizonaDave said...

Hi Jimmy Mac.....count me in as a friend blogger...always enjoy your thoughts which normally hit the old nail right on the head.

Sunny today in Elvis land...not much of a winter...thought I was in Arizona, not really.

Keep it in the middle of the fairway.

Jim McAllister said...

Mike, That is so typical today more than ever. Clerks rely on that cash register to tell them everything.

Dave, Pretty mild here this year too. Good weather for the Phoenix Open although they had the usual frost delays. I was hoping Phil could do back to backs by winning L. A. Not to be.

midnightsstaff said...

customer satisfaction... we don't need no stinkin' customer satisfaction...
I finally got someone in the Philippines that could help me with my Ooma phone number about a month ago.. it took me four of five attempts to get it accomplished tho.
I am starting to believe that the new parameters have been designed by the same people that have designed the CalPers system..
an hour and forty minute wait?- really what could possibly make something so complex that nearly two hours is required to make connection- no matter what time of the day or week you call them?.
Just another old guy complaining about how it used to be I suppose, I have become what I feared the most.haha..

CJinPhoenix said...

Hi, Jim. Yeah, you should remember how I feel about people that cannot count back change. When I started as a cashier at Woolworth's in downtown Phoenix, we had to use our brains: most of the registers did add, but we had to figure the tax & then add it in before hitting total. Then count back the change. And most places paid cashiers better back then too. Oh, Woolworth's didn't and another place I worked called Skaggs didn't ... But the grocery stores paid exceptionally well for a good cashier. The omnipresent computer chip ruined it all in more way than one. Computers are great if used right but we are letting them destroy our way of life and that is just a fact. You know, I know people that wouldn't be able to find their way out of their own neighborhood without GPS. Seriously.

midnightsstaff said...

It wasn't progress that ruined the industry CJ..- that is impossible, it is always human manipulation of a situation that distorts the system.
If this nation had a viable regulatory policy that reflected the needs of the nation rather than the extremist manipulation that through regulatory and punitive tax policy which has resulted in permanent lowered GNP expectations, all industries across the board would have had to reward production rather than acquiesce to artificial economic forces.
We have a nation that instead of rewarding production and thereby promoting more efficient production therby allowing the two sides of the economic coin, (risk of failure along with opportunity of reward) to work we now have a national industry morphing into one of service industries eating their own by trying to eliminate their competition with lower costs- instead of gas wars we now have burger or pizza wars..and just try to buy a television set or even a ball point pen that was made in the USA..
go ahead and call customer service... we frankly don't give a damn..
Of course with a shrinking demand for labor the wages have stagnated to subsistence levels across the board.
we now have "workers" which is a socialist term instead of "valued employees" - a capitalist term.
it's not rocket science, but that's a good thing because we don't have any rocket scientists available anyway..
...rant off...

Jim McAllister said...

Middy, I haven't had much trouble with the reps in the Phillipines; it's the ones in India who are hard to understand. They are really nice nad I hate to keep saying "HUH?" to them, but when i guy calls himself "ian" but whose real name is "Pun jab" it gets a BIT DIFFICULT!

Jim McAllister said...

CJ, Wow! I haven't heard of Skaggs for a LONG time. We had them in Kansas City after they bought out a local drug chain called Katz Drug. Skaggs then was bought out by OSCO. Now, CVS has apparently bought all the OSCO stores; at least the ones in Phoenix.

I would insist that my employees could count change back regardless of the abilities of the registers. It would mean they are just that much smarter than the dummies who can't do it. With cursive writing being discouraged, who knows what the next dumbing down of kids will be.

CJinPhoenix said...

You don't really have to remind me how "LONG" it has been, Jim. I worked at the Skagg's on 32nd Street & Indian School before I went into printing. You would think that all those years of experience would mean something, wouldn't you? I may have been a "valued employee" but when the economy hit a dip, I guess I was nothing more than an unnecessary expense in this capitalist world. And now who needs "valued employees"? Computers can do nearly all of the work & they do not need benefits. Computers & cheap prison labor, apparently.

Jim McAllister said...

CJ, Speaking of prisons, any word yet on your interview at Perryville? We're pulling for you.

CJinPhoenix said...

No word yet, Jim. They did say that the state moves extremely slow, though, so I am still hopeful.

Jim McAllister said...

CJ, Good to hear there is still a chance. Follow up with them by phone a few times. It lets them know that you really want the job. I'm sure you have done that anyway. Best of luck, keep mus up to date.

Noreen Clay said...

Thanks for sharing this, Jim. Truly, adequate training plays a major role in achieving quality customer service. A happy customer is a potent marketing tool that can eventually elevate your business.

Jim McAllister said...

Thanks, Noreen.

It's so true about good customer service. When i was selling I made it very easy for my customers hence allowing them to have confidence in me and to allow them to concentrate on other aspects of their work.