Never Too Busy To Say Hello

My father’s business was built upon relationships developed over many years. I thought about my father as I wrestled with our bank over a service fee.

When a $250 “Account Analysis Fee” appeared on our monthly statement, I complained to the bank branch manager who sympathetically told me that I had to speak to the commercial account representative. I called and left a message for him; a week later I left another message and then still another. When he finally returned my call, he informed me that he would change our account so there would be no more charges and he would look into refunding the fees they had removed from our account. The next month we were again charged the analysis fee and I realized our account representative had failed to carry through on the commitment he had made.

It’s not just the banks, in all types of businesses, CEO’s and boards of directors, isolated from customers, under pressure to maximize profits and hounded by stock analysis are allowing the “bean counters” to determine how they approach their customers. They have succumbed to the arguments: that automation can replace the human touch; that customers will put up with “customer service” outsourced overseas; that the wait times, errors and inefficiencies occasioned by reduced staff will be forgiven and that Americans are so shallow that only price makes a difference.

When I first went to work for him, I didn’t understand my father’s role in his company. He had managers who handled operations and a bookkeeper and secretaries who administered the back office. He arrived at 9:00 a.m., went to the post office an hour later, took over an hour for lunch, played golf on Wednesday afternoons and left for home by 5:00 p.m.: what a life! It was years before I came to the realization that through his interaction with customers, my dad was our company’s number one sales person.

His schedule was based upon connecting with people. He arrived at the office after having coffee with our banker and other businessmen; he timed his visit to the post office to coincide with customers retrieving their mail; lunch was often with a client and on Wednesdays he played “customer” golf. He knew his customers: their problems, needs and opinions of our service. In return, they knew, liked and wanted to do business with him. Not only did he interact with them, he also set the example of how we were to deal with our customers.

Prior to my appointment with a new doctor, I looked him up online and found he had two addresses. I went to the first location, a large building housing a number of offices but not that of the doctor I was scheduled to see. Concerned about being late for my appointment, I called the physicians office and was disdainfully informed that I was in the wrong location and impatiently directed to the correct address.

When I arrived at the doctor’s office, the receptionist, without a greeting or smile, handed me a clipboard and ordered me to fill out an attached form and when I returned with the completed questionnaire, demanded a payment. By the time I saw the doctor I was ready to do battle. He turned out to be a nice guy and a good physician but he almost lost me as a patient before we met.

Different from the doctor’s staff, my father insisted that all customers be treated graciously. He was never too busy to say hello, to inquire about family or to offer to help. He built relationships that served us for over fifty years.

Companies that focus on profit and neglect customer service and satisfaction suffer in the long run. I think of the junk American auto manufacturers turned out in the 1960’s and the market share they lost to higher quality—and in some instances more expensive—foreign imports; there are other well known examples of the same.

In a world where it is increasingly uncommon to do so, treating your customers graciously is a deciding factor in developing loyal relationships, andLa it’s up to the person in charge, to set the example for doing so.

Real Service

To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” – Douglas Adams


2 responses to “Never Too Busy To Say Hello

  1. I work in a consumer based industry and while I don’t deal directly with our customers often, when I do it’s the ones who are angry, frustrated and have had it up to “here” with the company. The greatest business advice I’ve been given is to just listen: people just want to be heard. Often, once I hear the entire story without interruption (and that’s really hard to do), I can usually fix the issue and save the relationship. I’ve had customers save my # and call me 2-5 years later with 1 simple question and act amazed that 1) I am still working there and 2) that I remembered them.

    Great post! MJ

    • Listening is a difficult art to learn: especially listening without being defensive.

      When he was in his late 70’s my dad was in his front yard with his dog Sam. Sam got loose and bit a jogger on his leg. My father patiently listened as the man loudly and profanely let him know how mad he was about being bitten. When the fellow finally wound down, he asked my father what he was going to do about his dog. My dad’s answer, “Well, if you want, you can bite me.” Now that is listening and not being defensive.

      Thanks for the kind comment.

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