Customer service

Customer service remains a challenge for all businesses. The greatest product or service can easily lose its lustre with the buying public when a custo­mer is made uncomfortable or just plain turned off.

Up until lately, most of my weekends have been spent cleaning up and doing minor renovations in the basement. During the week I get a list together and by Friday all the parts and pieces are taken home ready for Saturday.

Like most people familiar enough with repairs yet not in league with a real contractor, it is easy to forget one little piece or make a mistake counting on old inventory in the shop that may or may not be there. The particular week in question I was replacing a sump pump with the help of a friend’s son, who is going through as a plumber. It was late in the day when we started putting things together and discovered we were short one connector.

Long story short, we toddled off to Guelph early Sunday morning to get an adapter. The local hardware in Fergus did not open until later in the day and time was a bit of an issue, since my helper isn’t always around. The episode turned into a classic example for a customer service column.

When making purchases it has always been my experience that between the three stores in town that we frequent, someone is able to help – and help happily. Call it a bad day, but we did not have a good experience in Guelph.

The shelves in this particular store did not have what we wanted. Despite claims of the big box stores to have everything, they carried 1.5-inch adapters rather than the 1.25-inch size that we were using. Surely I must have been looking in the wrong place I thought, since the stores in Fergus offer plenty of those parts on the shelf.

So I caved in and sought some help, which turned in to the next hurdle. Three employees were busy with one customer attempting to find out specs for a water heater that the guy wanted to buy. After a few a minutes we caught someone’s attention and were told to go wait in the aisle until someone could help find what I needed. The safer bet might have been to have me check for stock on the computer since the staff did not seem to know much about computers.

After waiting for a while longer we finally asked the staffer for the coupler and found out the store didn’t carry any parts in that size. Before we could gracefully exit to go to another store, which would by now be opened, the interrogation began.

We explained the job a little after some prodding, and then the employee of this firm went on at length about how we were using the wrong size. Most weekend warriors know just enough to be dangerous when it comes to home renovations, but I’d like to think I’m a little better than average as far as what needs to be done. Changing the whole job over to the parts available in that store would have been costly.

Shortly, my confidence was a bit shaken, but when the plumber’s intelligence was questioned I figured either this guy was having the worst day of his life or I was dealing with a dandy. I think the parting salvo was something to the effect “You’re doing it all wrong but you can do what you want.”

Sure enough the next store, now open, had exactly what I needed. The job was completed later that morning and the sump pump we originally bought in Fergus works perfectly.

While it is not our nature to hold a grudge, we have not been back to the Guelph store since. Our limited purchases will not make a dent in the store’s revenue, however, all it takes is a few people with the same experience to snowball into larger losses.

As business owners it is imperative that the customers we do business with are happy with the service or product we provide. It is also understood that people can have a bad day, but the last place this should show up is in how staff interact with customers. This point should be reinforced constantly with employees because it is those very customers that generate the sales needed to pay the bills at the end of the month – including pay cheques.