28 November, 2007

Customer Service Strikes Back

At Renegade, sure we do advertising. We also have a studio, produce films and documentaries, and even handle customer service training, a facet of business that may not be as sexy as Superbowl ads and viral videos, but is just as essential to success .

Picture this: You’re standing in line at your local deli counter, coffee shop or fast food chain. The clerk asks if he can help the person in front of you. As they step forward to place their order, they reach toward their purse/pocket to grab their cell phone, “Oh, hey…Standing in line. What’s up…No way.” The burger jockey waits with a painful, painted on smile for the customer to place their order, “May I help y—” But the clerk is cut off by a single finger of silence held up by the oblivious cell phone talker, as if to sneer incredulously, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone…idiot?”

Or how about this: The jackass in front of you picks up their cell phone, steps forward to place their order while continuing their conversation, and the clerk with a genuine smile and air of satisfaction says, “I’ll be right with you as soon as you’re ready,” pointing to the sign that clearly reads, "If you're on your phone, we don't want to interrupt, so we'll just help everyone behind you first." The clerk smiles as you stride forward. Score one for the little guy in the paper hat.

It’s a trend that’s been slowly catching on. From PA to the PCH, all sorts of businesses–coffee shops, gynecologists and everything in between—are standing up for their employees and their customers with one simple request: PUT. THE CELL PHONE. DOWN. According to an article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Robbie Stevenson of phonesoff.net has made silencing this daily annoyance into a lucrative business. In 2003, Robbie sold 1,000 $4.95-$6.95 “No cell phone signs.” Today she sells 1,000 a month to companies from the Girl Scouts to Harvard University. The guy in the paper hat cheers and goes back to studying for the bar.

I may talk on the cell phone while strolling around Safeway, but I hang up or tell the person to hold on the moment I get up to that counter. Despite the urgency I feel to continue a conversation about whether or not Nicole Ritchie is “too thin” or if Suri Cruise really is an alien, I can sacrifice for the two minutes it takes to ring up my Mac n’ Cheese and cherry cola. I don’t know, I’ve just always thought people who don’t hang up the phone are rude. And as a former fry flinger (from back in the day when beepers were all the rage), it tickles my heart to hear that somebody is stepping up for the little guy. (Now, if we could only get the swerving land whale SUV drivers to do the same, I might go so far as to say courtesy is making a comeback in our country—but that’s a different rant.)

The point is. Somebody’s getting the message. When you take your customers seriously, they take you seriously, and they appreciate it. The aforementioned article noted that some people complained, but it was about 1 complaint for every 600 “thank you’s.” According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the Associated Press and AOL, 82 percent of all Americans and 86 percent of cell phone users were irritated by loud, annoying cell conversations in public. THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN!
So in honor of the people speaking, when you think about customer service, think this: “What do our customers really want?” “What would make our customers happy?” And not just the loud, fickle, bully customers whose opinions you’d already know even if they weren’t constantly telling you how to better run your business, but the dedicated customers, too. The ones who’ve stuck with your business through the toughest growing pains, the ones who’ve stayed because they like what you’ve got. Building business is about finding new customers, but it’s also about keeping the loyal customers you’ve got.

Next week we may see Wal-Mart may putting in drive-thrus in the power tool department, but this week, notch one up for customer service.

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