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Customer Service

Examples of Good & Not So Good Customer Service Stories
Good Customer Service Stories

Customer Centric


It should not matter if you’re looking for work or as a small business owner, you’re providing a service, focusing on serving the customer is important. There are so many ways we can provide strong customer service in much of what we do, especially while in transition. Being customer centric does not have to be limited to how you're treated at a restaurant or retail store. A strong customer service approach certainly applies to your small business too. Providing the best support & advice to potential clients, business contacts or those in your network circles. Treat others the way you’d like them to treat you. Even if your task is not directly related to your goal or business, doing a good job being customer centric goes a long way with your reputation & brand.

Excelling in Service from Sleepy Eye, Minnesota

Last year, my wife, who’s in the financial services industry, ordered 150 calendars from the Calendar Coop Center in Sleepy Eye, MN. According to this company, as clients, we were going to follow a certain process to get these calendars created and published. This company was going to email our office a pre-printed copy of the calendar credentials before publication.

Needless to say, we never received this email to review the draft. About the time that I inquired on the status of the review email, the 150 calendars arrived to our office. Fortunately, they were ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, part of her credentials were missing from each calendar. Perhaps someone had a sleepy eye? Therefore, according to the guidelines my wife’s company, these calendars were not compliant.

Regarding the typo, we proceeded to contact the Calendar Coop Center and they were very apologetic about the error. They asked whether we OK’d the email and we explained we never received the email draft review. I emphasized, due to compliance regulations, we needed her exact credentials on the calendar. They were cooperative and insisted they’d print the new calendars and ship them out within 2 days. We offered to ship back the calendars but they insisted we could keep them. Within four business days, our corrected calendars did arrive.

I appreciated their customer service focus last year. Even though the error was insignificant, it was something we had to correct. After they apologized, they accepted responsibility and did the necessary work to create and ship the correct information.

This year, we did not hesitate to order from them and thankfully, the calendars arrived corrected. One true test of a company is not if they make mistakes but how the company handles situations when mistakes are made. A fine example of a company being customer centric and making the best out of a business interaction that initially didn’t start well.

Do you have an example of a company making an error but then being responsible and correcting the situation?


Security Officer Going Above And Beyond?

I was stuck standing in line at the unemployment office one Friday and for everyone that has experienced this, this is certainly not an enviable experience. I arrived 45 minutes before the office opened figuring that I'd be one of the first 20 (ended up being 13th) in line in order to limit the amount of time I was going to spend there.

After being in line for about 30 minutes, I noticed the only person currently working in the office was the security guard. He was walking up and down the line asking people various questions such as: Do you need a pen? Do you need this form? What's the purpose of your visit? He was also reminding people they needed 2 forms of identical. Just helping prepare clients to help streamline the process.

Did he take the initiative to do this or is this part of his job description but regardless, he was certainly made a difference. Maybe helping out those folks currently in transition standing in line was helping him maintain order. At any rate, it was a bright touch to an office that certainly can use positive news. 

In fact, I visited the office the following week and observed the security guard doing the same thing. Kudos for leveraging the security guard to help the office move smoothly.

"If you're losing clients, you are dying."

Providing Excellent Service in Your Small Business One Interaction at a Time

A few months ago, I had a conversation with a few individuals who are interested in customer service and take it seriously. At the time, we were thinking aloud -- how does a small business owner or independent contractor know when they are doing a good job? Especially in the area of taxes, financial services or insurance. Think accountant, financial advisor or insurance agent.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to some of these professionals (independent contractors) to get their take on how they know when they are providing excellent customer service.


If you meet with your clients, they are interested in what you’re saying or are engaged, and they return 6 months or a year later to do it all over again, you’re probably meeting or exceeding their needs.

If they return your calls or feel comfortable to call you back, you’re probably doing a good job.

If clients open up and allow you to get to know them over time, chances are you’re providing good service.

Another example is receiving verbal thanks, a card, or small gifts from time to time; it appears to indicate they appreciate your service.

Sometimes, there’s an opportunity to ‘wow’ customers who’ve had negative customer service experiences before in the same industry. Because their idea of what service should look like in this industry is low, you have a great opportunity to “wow” them with your care and concern and make them permanent customers.

If you're getting new clients while maintaining your existing ones, you’re probably doing a good job.

If your current clients are referring clients, you’re probably doing a good job.

If you're losing clients, you are dying.

Even if you're losing just a few clients, you are dying a slow death. Obviously, the purpose of business is to grow.

You can read people in terms of how they respond to your calls or meetings. Are they engaged? Do they enjoy speaking with you? Do they want to meet with you? Do they implement most of  what you recommend or at least respect your professional opinion? If the response is ‘yes’ most of the time, you’re probably doing a good job.

Set the expectation to new and old clients that you provide a personal approach and strong customer service to their financial, accounting or insurance needs. Tell them you care. Tell them you will proactively call them if changes are needed to their portfolio or their insurance needs change.

Once you set a higher level of expectation, do what you say you’re going to do. Your clients will appreciate and remember your excellent service. You will become remarkable.

What Does This Customer Really Want?

A golf friend of mine has a business selling insurance and financial products. Let’s call him John. John’s an independent contractor representing Wilson Financial. My friend tells a story of a customer who came to him about 6 months ago requesting good customer service. Apparently, this customer had originally worked with another advisor at Wilson who did not take customer service very seriously. His original agent would never return his calls, rarely want to review his portfolio and didn’t appear to care. This client really wanted to stay with Wilson Financial but was looking for a professional who really cared.

Interestingly, this customer was in luck and came to the right person – John is customer centric, helps where he can and loves to go above and beyond for his customers. Therefore, it appears to be a good match – a client who really wanted his insurance agent to focus on service and John ready to oblige.

So far, things have gotten off to a rough start. John had to call his new client 4 times before he was able to schedule an appointment. Once the appointment was scheduled, the new client didn’t show. Initially, my friend was befuddled. He didn’t know what to think. Apparently, the new client’s wife didn’t tell him about the appointment. In fact, the new client had to reschedule one more time before they actually met. The client so far has not been completely cooperative during the initial stages and John is aware and is doing what he can to improve the relationship.

He really wants to show his new client that his service model focuses on all his customers. John’s mantra is he practices what he preaches but it’s been quite challenging so far. That doesn’t mean he’ll give up, it just means he may have to b a little more focused to assure this new client he’s there for him.

Do customers have responsibilities too? At some point, do they have to return phone calls? Is the onus always on the agent or provider to reach them or eventually do clients need to work and cooperate with their professionals? At some point, would not both the professional and their client have to agree and establish certain guidelines in their professional relationship to help ensure success? Because of my friend’s tenacious nature, on and off the golf course, he will not give up even though he’s unexpectedly experienced some challenges so far with this client.

If A Professional Makes A Mistake With Their Customers, How To Make Things Right

A colleague of mine who happens to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) had to reschedule an appointment with her two, new clients, a couple who appear to need tax advice. Originally, the husband missed the initial meeting as he had to help take care of his mom who had suddenly became ill. So cancellation number one.

The new appointment by the CPA was scheduled for a few weeks later on Monday night, at 6 pm. Needless to say, when it’s the second time an appointment has been scheduled, it’s important for it to occur.

About 30 minutes after 6 pm on that Monday night, my CPA colleague tells me she had completely forgotten about the appointment. Actually, in her mind she had mistakenly thought it was at 7 pm instead of 6. Initially mortified, she felt terrible about her mistake and greatly inconveniencing her new clients. As she was telling me the story, she shook her head saying it had been over 10 years since she last failed to show for an appointment made by her or her office.

Instead of letting things simmer on Monday evening, she immediately called her clients and apologized. And because her clients were relatively new, she wasn't exactly sure how they'd handle the news. Regardless of how this relationship would turn out, she had to do everything in her power to tell the truth so she simply said she "goofed" and apologized for the inconvenience. It was quite encouraging to realize her clients had no issues whatsoever about the mix-up. Towards the end of the conversation, my colleague inquired about the health status of her mom. Thankfully, mom was doing better.

The next day came and she called her clients again and told them she felt quite bad about missing their appointment. She offered to meet them at any time of their convenience – she knew it was critical of doing everything in her power to make things right and steer the ship in the right direction. After securing another time, she purchased a $50 gift to a local restaurant for these clients. To go one step further, she sent her client’s mother get well flowers. Not necessarily although something that is noteworthy and clearly customer centric.

I heard her clients were pleasantly surprised by her nice gesture. They certainly weren’t expecting anything as they simply appreciated her honesty during the apology. Apparently her clients had worked with other professionals for years and had never received any gifts or presents from any of their providers.

Some time has passed and she still feels a little guilty about missing the appointment. I don't think this will occur for many a year. We all make mistakes from time to time. It’s not mistakes that will hurt your business or reputation, but rather, it’s how one handles things once mistakes happen. One’s character is not necessarily about avoiding mistakes, but rather, how we admit them and make them right. That’s king in my good customer service circles.

Not So Good Customer Service Stories
Alarm Clock

"It takes months to

find a customer &

seconds to lose one."


Vince Lombardi

Was I Wowed At Donald Stephens Convention Center Starbuck's?

Last month, my wife and I were attending an Irish Dancing Feis at the Donald Stephens Convention Center with some relatives. After one of the Irish dances, I noticed some Feis attendees with the ubiquitous Starbuck's cup. She asked me to fetch her a cup of Earl Grey tea. After connecting the dots, I walked across this large warehouse building with poor acoustics and then downstairs to locate a Starbuck's.

As I proceeded to the coffee and tea purveyor, my expectations were all over the coffee map. I did not think I'd be the only one in line. I knew it would take 5-10 minutes or longer. However, living in the Chicago area for almost 3 decades, things are frequently hard and challenging. I waited about 30 minutes before I ordered. In fact, once it was my turn, I had to concentrate to order Earl Grey for my wife. I could have acted like a millennial and been glued to my phone while occasionally shuffling my feet forward and been oblivious to the amount of time spent just getting an espresso or cappuccino. Nevertheless, know, I wanted to be a mere observer, looking at young ladies in line, observing the ambience and pace of Starbuck's and taking it all in. 

s I'm making my way to the front, I'm noticing much merchandise on display for sale of course. No idea of the cost as it's not priced or it's not priced in a way that consumers can easily ascertain. I seen this sometimes in smaller retailers and airports and politely say the price tag is missing and their response ranges from "Never noticed it or, I have no idea, I just work here, or I can check the price for you." Often, they miss the point. When I value shop, I process whether something is a good value and one key component is price. If items are not priced, my retail gauge is often way off. 

Continuing to wait with a semblance of patience, I notice the special wood branded on some of their tables. Interesting although I don't know what to make of it. I wonder if these teenage dancers notice the special branding of Reclaimed Urban Wood after adjusting their hair, makeup and specially designed dance outfits.

I'm telling the truth by saying this purveyor of coffee, tea and snack items had no more Earl Grey at my time of ordering. Seriously? Yes, they had all the hot water East of O'Hare but no more Earl Grey tea on a glorious Saturday in October. I smiled and mentally conjured up how much space a box of Earl Grey tea would usurp. I took an alternative dark tea knowing my wife would have been satisfied with any dark tea in lieu of having such a long wait. 

Perhaps in the future, why not have an automated machine inside the restaurant for those individuals who want a basic coffee but would rather not spend too much time in line for a fancy drink? While imagining some improvements, I'm just keeping my mind occupied during this experience.

The tip jar was empty. Look, I will not fault the employees for the fact this restaurant at time contained a line of about 60 customers. Which meant that, for the most part, you had three employees servicing each of these requests? I'm guessing some were straightforward and others would require much more time than the typical request.

I'm a simple guy with simple coffee tastes. I don't mind getting a bitter cup of coffee with or without crème. If crème is available, I may splurge but it's not a requirement. Sometimes I have a sweet tooth and add honey or sugar to the mix but that's an exception at a restaurant or at home. Once I did order, my coffee of the day (French Roast) in the Venti size was $3.50. I typically order the 20 ounces of coffee to brush up on my Italian and keep me occupied for quite some time. Keeping track of those things as I typically get the largest coffee of the day, it's typically $2.20 or $2.50. That's the most I've ever spent on that item. In fact, the Orlando, Milwaukee or Chicago airports all have that item for less than $3.00. Even a few Starbucks in mid-town Manhattan was under $3. Crazy world we live in.

I'm not a fool to expect an apology from any of the staff -- it just often sets up eventual disappointment. Of course an apology would be more customer centric, but I'm not counting on it. Anyway, I'm wondering if Starbuck's management tracks what events take place at the Donald Stephens Center and the amount of business they do with each event. I understand they don't want to be overstaffed and provide high-quality service if it means their labor costs will be much greater, cutting into their profit. If there are certain events that take place generating double or triple the service traffic, perhaps planning could improve service and help maximize profit.

Maybe that's too much work to do. Maybe the key ingredient making the fall such a hectic time can be contributed to the pumpkin spice craze. Maybe the key is being fully staffed during the season between summer and winter to ensure the customers and retailers win and that they never run out of pumpkin spice.

Cup of Tea

One story of a sub-par customer experience at Starbuck's!

Lowdown at Lowe’s in the Plumbing Aisle

Last month, I had the chance to spend a few days in December in Florida with my Mom and Dad. They live in The Villages in Lady Lake, FL. Unfortunately, they had some plumbing issues while I visited. Fortunately, I was able to assist. Because Lowe’s was the nearest hardware store from their home, my Dad and I took the convenient route and visited Lowe's.

It was our second trip to Lowe’s in as many days and my goal was to verify I had the correct materials and tools to do the job. We were happy to quickly find help in the plumbing aisle.

I asked him where I could find a plastic flange for the sewer pipe and he abruptly pointed down the aisle and said, “Over there.” I quickly wondered what kind of service we were going to receive.

Experience in life tells me to rely on experts – especially in a hardware store. At the same time, experience tells me to it’s crucial to explain your situation while you're in the store – to ensure you're on the right page with the expert. As I began to explain the current challenges of adding a flange to the bottom of the toilet, he interrupted and said, “Don't rotate the toilet, you just sit on it after you add the flange." To clarify, I said calmly, "The instructions on the container say you slightly rotate the toilet from side to side and then sit on it." He said abruptly, "No, I've been a plumber for over 25 years and you don't rotate it. You just sit on it to set it in place." I was surprised at how defensive he was. I certainly respected his plumbing knowledge and experience although his delivery and demeanor could have been much more customer friendly.

As I had entered Lowe's for the second time, the last thing on my mind was a confrontation in the store. I was looking for the customer centric approach – after I would explain my situation and the expert would work with me, provide helpful advice and materials to complete my task.

Like I said in my earlier post about retail experiences, please don't belittle or embarrass me. Retailers, show a little empathy, especially in a hardware store. I'm not necessarily an expert at this and my bet is that there are a lot of consumers who can identify with me.

Personally, I typically have more questions than answers and I'm just trying to complete a project or task. I certainly treat all retail employees, including those at Lowe’s with respect. And the same treatment would be welcomed. Even if our point of view isn't the same or we don't agree doesn't mean we can't interact in a cordial and respectful manner.

As I had entered Lowe's for the second time, the last thing on my mind was a        confrontation in the store. I was looking for the customer centric approach – after I would explain my situation and the expert would work with me, provide helpful advice and materials to complete my task.

Not Too Customer Centric At A Wisconsin Badger Game

Some casual and fancy purses were are all lined up in a pile outside Camp Randall in Madison, Wisconsin. Apparently, these purses were too large to be allowed in the Badger football stadium so women formed a neat row of purses outside the stadium hoping the purses would be there when they returned after the game.

In full disclosure, my wife and daughter placed their purses along this pile in the 2nd quarter of the Badger-Gopher game on October 10, right after the police had gone through the pile with specially trained security canines. They figured the police just made the rounds and determined all purses were not a security risk so it’s a good time to place their purses in this group. You see, unfortunately their purses were larger than the 8.5 by 11 inch guideline so they figured a group of empty purses together were more secure than just a small group of two purses.

About 45 minutes later, while the game moved into the 3rd quarter, my wife took a peek from inside the stadium to see if the pile of purses was still intact and noticed the entire pile was gone. This was a major shock to my daughter as her stylish purse was purchased in Venice, Italy and had sentimental value too. Once they realized what occurred, they lost much of their team spirit and decided to leave the game. As they left, they asked vendors near the original purse pile what happened. The response was, “The police came by and grabbed all purses to be discarded.”

What is worse, getting your purse stolen after it was hidden or having it cleaned up by the police? Does it matter? Do you still feel violated? From their experience, they felt their purses were disregarded and discarded.

A number of purses were all lined up and were swooped up by the police... Wouldn’t security or the police question why these purses (some rather nice) were all neatly lined up all sitting aside one another? Maybe connect the dots? I’m guessing this occurs every Badger home game; wouldn’t any police official attempt to act on behalf of those who were unable to bring their purses in the stadium? Has this crossed anyone's mind? Or is it the "it’s not my job” mentality?

Look, this purse guideline is stated on the UW website so it was communicated online but how do you reach those non-football fans who attend a game every 5-10 years? They had no idea there was a size limitation; if any of those purse owners had, would they have subjected their purses to possible removal by the officials or risked them being stolen?

The University should have a contingency plan regardless of how well it's communicated. You will always have fans who exceed these guidelines.

Sometimes, it's not done blatantly. If your organization holds firm on all these rules and requirements, then perhaps consider giving fans alternatives — especially those who have traveled a few hours from out of town.

One alternative might be to provide lockers for those who bring a backpack or large purse to the stadium? $1 per hour or $5 for every 6 hours. After the purses are searched for security reasons, the purse owner could have a secure place to put your valuables that are not allowed in the stadium. Why wouldn’t Wisconsin football provide an option for those unfamiliar with the carry-in or purse policy? They have lockers for your valuables at the U.S. Capital; maybe large sports venues should consider it? Any reason not to make it more customer centric?

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