“The first step in meeting your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.”— Roy H. Williams, author, and founder of the Wizard Academy Institute.
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“Yes sir, I do have the parts you’re looking for in stock,” Chris responded to my email last Saturday morning.
One call confirming that Time Machine Spas was open, and I was on my way to Longview. Closing the sale with some friendly conversation about my day job, owner Chris Ogden shared how his college journey began with a desire to be a journalist before he wound up in business. With that, he confessed to having never lost his love for sticking words together to tell a story.
I smiled when he talked about creating a side business in college, writing academic papers for those who were absent the day writer’s genes were passed out. The smile was because I had done the same thing. Truthfully, “ghost writing” for my word-challenged college classmates in the late 1960s was a spur of the moment thought for me.
The Leigh Apartments in Kilgore sat on a hillside above North Henderson Boulevard. A row of lawn chairs under a big shade tree beside the parking lot served as an afternoon roosting spot for apartment dwelling guys to watch traffic on the busy street below. Typical conversation for said apartment dwelling guys watching traffic centered on good-looking cars, fast cars, and any kind of car driven by a good-looking girl.
“Man, I’ve got to get started on that paper for English class,” lamented a member of the lawn chair gallery one afternoon.
“When’s it due,” I asked.
“Tomorrow. And I’d give anything if I could just pay somebody to write it for me.”
Thinking for a minute during the short silence, I challenged the question. “How many pages you need … and what would you pay? “
After supplying the composition criteria, he asked. “You know somebody that would do it by 1:00 o’clock tomorrow? For $20?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Me.”
“Yeah, me,” I responded. “I may be flunking trig and calculus, but I’m making ‘A’s in English and composition.”
We struck a deal at four that afternoon and I headed off to the library. I was the last one out when it closed at 10 and kept my portable typewriter busy that night while everyone else, including my first business client, played spades at the apartment four doors down. I presented him with a manuscript about the same time his card game broke up.
Later that week, he was waving his graded paper in the air. “I got B-plus,” he hollered.
“Is that good,” I asked hesitatingly.
“Good? It’s the first passing grade I’ve made in that class,” he beamed. “The teacher said my progress was remarkable.”
“Whew,” I sighed. Word spread and I was soon spending one or two nights a week in the library and some Saturdays when I wasn’t traveling with the band for an out-of-town football game.
By finals, I had earned a nice nest egg toward next semester’s college expenses and had spending money as well. I also had happy customers as references. Well, except for that one paper.
That customer, a football player, was getting out of his car at the apartments when I saw him. “Hey, how’d that paper work for you,” I asked?
The six-foot-two, 260-pound lineman unfolded out of his car, turned toward me, and said, “I got a D.”
“Oh no,” I exclaimed. “I am so sorry. I’ll give you your money back,” I added, reaching into my pocket. “Can I look at it and see what the teacher’s problem with it was—will she let you do something for extra credit? I’ll do that for free.”
“Are you kiddin’, it’s fine,” he said, waving off the money with a grin. “All she wrote on it was, ‘I know this not your work, but I can’t prove it, therefore I cannot fail you.’ She gave me a ‘D’ which is better than the ‘F’ I would have gotten. And I don’t have to take the class over next semester. It’s all good.”
Business lesson number two in my young career was that some customers’ expectations will be less than others. And that will be all right, too.
Last Saturday in Longview, I was happy to buy parts to repair my hot tub and get them the same day without ordering online and waiting. Chris made a sale, albeit a small one, and charged me less than I was about to pay online.
A win-win: getting my hot tub fixed and making a new friend. The bonus: a friend with which to swap common stories about life experiences.
That part was above and beyond my expectations.
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.
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