by Melodie Davis
for release February 11, 2000
Small Enough to Care
Recently I wrote a column complaining about how poor customer service had become in many places. Then some shining examples of outstanding customer service came along, indicating that maybe good customer service isn't dead, I just hadn't been shopping in the right places.
The first story evolves out of a promotional mailing sent to this column (columnists, editors and radio and TV talk show hosts get all kinds of promotional literature and freebies hoping for a free "mention"). This mailing offered some cute little business cards called "Communicate" cards that can be used to send cheery, affirmative notes to people. I liked the cards and they were very cheap so I promptly ordered $3 worth for personal use. No shipping, no handling, no tax. What a bargain. But I sent my order off without signing the check. Stupid mistake, happens every day.
The company politely filled my order, but also sent back the check for me to sign, and included a self-addressed, stamped envelope to make it very easy for me to return the signed check. I felt embarrassed and guilty. Here they had used up 66 cents (out of what must be a very small profit on a $3 item) to get my signature on the check! But I quickly sent it back and thought, well, that is that.
A week or so later I got a letter from the business owner with the check enclosed again and a note explaining, "After I received your signed check, I realized I was being short-sighted, insisting on a $3 payment when any eventual mention by you in your column would be invaluable. So, the check is taking still another journey across the country, back into your hands to rip up."
I was, to use one of my mother's favorite old words, flabbergasted. How sweet. But perhaps not too unexpected from a woman whose passion is making these "Positive expression" cards that help others communicate messages like "I'm so proud of you!" "Can't wait to see you again!" "I love you" "Thanks for listening" and "Thanks for your extra effort" to family, friends and co-workers. (Communicate cards are available from (email@example.com) or PO Box 657 Hartland, WI 53029).
The next example of extraordinary customer service came when my daughter's flute needed some minor repairs. We had neglected to take it in early enough for a timely repair, and the owner of M & M Music instrument repair shop ended up making a special stop at her high school to drop off the flute on his way out of town so that my daughter would have it for a playing test. I said it wasn't necessary, that she had a loaner flute she could use. But this lover of music said, "But you never do as well with someone else's instrument. She needs her flute" I felt he was definitely going beyond the call of duty.
Finally, William R. Cole, the manager of Day-Nits Food Mart in Batesville, Indiana, wrote in response to the column on customer service: "The customer is my everything, for without the customer, my job would not exist. The customer is my boss and although the boss may sign my check, without the customer, there would be no check.
"I know 90 percent of the customers who come through our doors by first name. They are all greeted with a smiling hello, good morning, or something positive to let each and every one I encounter know that we appreciate their business.
"i love the people I work for and the town I live in," Mr. Cole says, not surprisingly. Turns out that Mr. Cole was raised near the Shenandoah Valley, and he and his brothers and sisters grew up learning "the customer is always right" working for Mr. Pageant at Apple Acres Grocery near South River.
Have you figured out what all these businesses -- what all these stories of excellent customer service have in common? They are all small -- small enough to give the kind of personal, caring service that gives you that warm, tingly, cared-for feeling. Reason enough to patronize the small shops in your town or city?
Send stories of great customer service to Melodia Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodia@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodia Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 700 words; end material = 105 words
We would appreciate it if you would include the "Globe Syndicate" bug at the end of the column.
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