One of my favorite classes in college was a class called Service Operations Management. It was taught by a beloved professor, Dr. Ray Haynes. Haynes, who sadly passed of a heart attack back in 2013, was one of those professors who brought real-life experience into the classroom. One day, we were having a discussion on customer service in a service environment. Typically in this environment (like many of ours), the point of contact with the customer usually occurs with the most junior employee. First day on the job? That’s great; why don’t you go greet that customer and tell him someone will be right with him. Sound familiar? Well, Haynes began to tell a story about an old miner who walked into a Nordstrom in Fairbanks, Alaska, with a worn out pair of tires. Nordstrom is well known for their excellent customer service and return without a receipt, no-questions asked policy. However, Nordstrom didn’t sell tires, at least not in that store in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The miner relayed his displeasure to the clerk at Nordstrom, who by the way was a 16-year-old junior sales associate. What did the sales associate do after listening to the miner share his dissatisfaction with the tires? Well, I will get to that in a minute. The more pressing question is: what would your employees do? Better yet, what would you expect your employees to do? Is your company policy one in which your employees can take the necessary steps to make the customer happy? Do your employees have the latitude to do what it takes to resolve a situation like this?
I recently received a letter from one of my customers. The customer came in for an oil change in one of our slower locations. Upon leaving, the customer noticed that a tire was low, and summoned an employee over. The employee told the customer that the tire was low when it came in and that they had added air, but noticed there was a gouge in the side of the tire that caused it to leak. The customer felt this must have happened at the store, since he hadn’t noticed the tire being low before. At that point, the employee got defensive and explained all they had done was drive the car in one side of the building and out the other, and there was no way they could have punctured the tire.
The story gets worse. The customer, who is elderly and needs assistance from a walker, asked the employees if they could, at the least, swap the tire out and put the spare tire on the vehicle. The employees declined and advised the customer to visit a tire shop. By refusing to do something out of common courtesy, the employees exasperated the situation to the point where the customer wouldn’t settle for anything less than a new tire. By the time the letter reached my desk, how many of my employees had failed that customer? Of course, the least I could do was replace the tire.
In discussing the incident with the team, it was hard not to share my complete and utter embarrassment in how they had treated the customer. Regardless of whether we punctured the tire or not, there is no excuse for not rising above and doing the right thing. There was no excuse to not swap the tire for the spare. We have tire lifts. We do tire rotations. We had the time, labor and tools necessary to take care of the customer. We failed! I shared the Nordstrom story with the team and asked them what they thought the young Nordstrom clerk might do. None of them guessed that the 16 year old junior sales associate would have called a tire store, found out what those tires might be worth and refunded the miner $25 for the pair of tires.
The moral of my story is this: if you expect your team to treat your customers right, then you need to instill it in them from the start. Common decency and common courtesy may not be that common any more. As business owners, we need to take the steps to ensure our employees are trained on what it means to do the right thing!