Getting a charge out of good customer service

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”— Henry Ford

My contention that customer service is too often an oxymoron these days was echoed this week by my newspaper friend, Bill Hartman. His column in the Fort Bend Herald recounted an occurrence sounding all too familiar.

“The shopping part was easy,’ he wrote about his experience, complimenting the salesperson. The problem, he reported, was when it was time to pay out and the checkout employee encountered problems with the store’s check processing machine. When the malfunctioning device failed repeatedly to read his check, she told him it was broken and they couldn’t process the check.

“And what does that mean,” he asked?

“We can’t finish the sale,” was the reply he got. To that, he responded, “Have you ever considered doing it the old-fashioned way by just taking the check to the bank and depositing it.”

The checkout clerk was quick to say, “We don’t do that, don’t you have a credit card you could use?”

“Nope,” he said. “I guess we have no deal then.”

“About that time,” his column continues, “The young lady who did the selling sprinted by and returned with a lady in tow who must have been the manager. All of them gathered around. Finally, the manager whispered something to the money collector, and she went to her computer…and a piece of paper flew out of her printer.”

‘It’s your receipt,’ the wounded-looking money collector said. “The manager said we’d just do it the old-fashioned way.”

“There’s a moral to this tale,” Mr. Hartman concluded. “When someone is ready to buy something from you, try your best to accommodate them. You never know when it might be your last sale.”

One of the gurus of accommodating the customer had to have been Dean Redfearn who owned an auto parts store on Third Street in Mount Pleasant between the Martin Theater and city hall when I was in high school.

I bought parts there because he was always quick to accommodate me, taking time to help this school kid customer keep his hot rod ’55 Chevy running. One Saturday morning I was perusing a parts list at the end of the counter when an older gentleman walked in and heaved a dead battery up on the counter with a “thud” saying that he needed a new one. Mr. Redfearn greeted him with a smile, identified the battery, then disappeared down one of the long rows of parts bins. In a jiffy, he returned with a shiny new, freshly charged version of the expired power supply.

As the customer reached for his wallet, Mr. Redfearn produced a hand-written receipt. If memory serves me correctly, the 1965 price was about $9.95.

“Phew,” the old fellow whistled. “I can get the same battery out of the Sears catalog for $6.95. Can’t you sell it to me the same as Sears?”

Without blinking an eye, Mr. Redfearn smiled and said, “Sure, I’d be glad to.” Pushing the same receipt toward the customer, he said, “That’ll be $6.95 plus three dollars for shipping and handling.” He then picked up the new battery, put it on the shelf behind him and added with the same pleasant smile. “It will be ready to pick up next Tuesday.”

The befuddled fellow stared in silence for a second, then grinned and slapped a $10 bill on the counter. “Gim’me that battery.”

Mr. Redfearn put the battery back on the counter, took the customer’s money and the two shook hands, still smiling. Mr. Redfearn added, “Could I put that in your pickup for you?”

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

 

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