Notes From the Edge (of the Counter)

Carolyn B. Nankervis |

APPLETON, Wis. — I like to start each of my columns with a pithy saying. This one comes from a focus group I conducted recently. I had asked how one can provide excellent customer service and one of the group members offered this wonderful statement:

“Acknowledge your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s OK to make a mistake. But if you make the same mistake over and over, it’s a habit.”

That got me thinking about habits. First off, not all habits are bad. Remembering to call the customer by name is a habit. Thanking a customer for his/her business is a habit. Asking about spots and stains is a habit. Smiling, being pleasant, well groomed, in uniform…they are all habits.

How did we get good habits? Easy. Someone told us we were doing the right thing. And then we did it over and over again.

I have a great example of a customer transaction that was all about habit. The shopper had come to the cleaners to pick up his clothing but an item was not ready. I’ll let the shopper take the story from here:

Laura greeted me by saying, “Good morning. Your name?” As soon as I told Laura my name, she started to find my items. She informed me that only one item was ready. “I’m sorry, Ken,” she said. She explained that they had to launder the other item again, and that it will be ready tomorrow after 3.

When I returned the next day, in the morning, Laura said, “Ken, how are you today?” I was impressed that she remembered my name.

She said, “Everything is ready to go this time. You won’t be needing to make another trip.”

She was very upbeat and friendly the whole time. Her positive attitude and friendly approach made what could have been a bad situation OK.

Mistakes happen. It is how the CSR handles these mistakes that make all the difference in the world. Laura is excellent.

On the flip side, I have seen customer service problems that could have been resolved simply with prompt communication. While no one wants to be the bearer of bad news, it’s a bad habit to avoid any confrontation with customers. In the next two events, if the CSR had done what they said they would do, both might have been great customer service experiences.

In the first instance, a shopper dropped off a blanket for cleaning. When he returned the next day, the counter person couldn’t locate the blanket. Eventually it was found, but it hadn’t been cleaned. The shopper was told to come back the next day, the blanket would be ready. When the shopper returned the following day, the blanket still wasn’t ready. Here’s what the shopper wrote:

Jordan looked for the blanket for quite a while and finally looked in the bin of blankets. He returned to the register, apologized for the inconvenience and promised it would be ready 11 a.m. tomorrow, because he would clean it himself. He also said that he would compensate me for the trouble. I left the store.

On the next day, Sunday, Beth was standing at the register when I walked in the store. She greeted me with, “How are you? How may I help you?” I told Beth that I was there to pick up my blanket. She asked for my last name, then asked for my first name. She typed something in the computer, turned around and picked up my blanket off the ground in the left corner. She brought it over and rested it on the bottom of the clothes rack. I unzipped the blanket bag and took a brief look, without taking the blanket out. I said thanks and Beth said, “Thanks, have a nice day.” Even though Jordan said I would be, I was not compensated for my multiple visits to the store.

In case you lost count, the shopper visited the store four times to pick up his blanket. And the CSR at the final pickup didn’t know anything about it.

The second instance involved a case where a CSR had attributed a shopper’s debit card number to another customer with a similar name. The shopper falsely believed her identity was stolen. She was told that she would be contacted by the business manager to straighten out the situation. The store manager did not call back the customer as she had promised. The business manager was not told of the situation, and you can guess the rest of the story. Here is the final text we received from the shopper after we asked her what has transpired:

It is still ongoing. Don’t really want money from them. Had to cancel our debit card and order a new one. Their business manager still has not contacted me, and they will not give me her number. Will be reporting this to the BBB (Better Business Bureau) at my bank’s suggestion.

If you thought this was the end, wait … there is more! The owner became involved. Here is my e-mail communication with the owner in which I asked about calling the shopper:

“She thanked me for the phone call and for the apology for all of the hassle (despite the fact it was all brought on by herself). I also apologized for the fact that my business manager did not get right back to her, but as I mentioned yesterday my AD manager failed to convey it to the business manager on Monday when she saw her (I have since sent a note to not wait on customer issues but rather make a phone call or send an e-mail immediately) and then the business manager was out yesterday and today with bronchitis.

Reading this has probably made you tired and cranky. Pity the poor customers. A good habit to reinforce is to “overcommunicate” with your customers when issues arise. If you don’t, they will always fill in the blanks with the worst possible scenario. And no one wins.

About the author

Carolyn B. Nankervis

MarketWise Consulting Group


Carolyn B. Nankervis is president of MarketWise Consulting Group, Appleton, Wis. Her firm specializes in small-business market research and highly detailed mystery-shopping programs. She can be reached at, 920-735-4970.


Digital Edition

Latest Classifieds

Industry Chatter