Treat Your Customers Like Potential Girlfriends

Last Monday I sent a project proposal for TypeTribe web development to a company called Intridea. 6 days later, and I still haven’t heard anything from them. Not a word. Not even a confirmation of receipt. In this economy.

This absolutely, positively bewilders me. Most business spend a significant portion of their operating budgets trying to reach new customers. When a customer finds you and tells you they want to pay you for your services, how do you not respond?

My philosophy on customer service is that you treat every potential customer like a potential girlfriend. You meet a girl, you get her number, you call her up to ask her out. When do you call? Countless movies and books have made a big deal about the rules regarding when a guy will call a girl, but I really think it’s as simple as this: If the guy’s interested, he’ll get in touch with you within a day or two. We’re guys–we’re not idiots. If we’re excited about the prospect of going out with you sometime, we’ll let you know we’re interested.

Customer service is no different. The message that Intridea is sending me is that they’re not interested. I talked about this with Nancy, and she pointed out that the owners of the company could be on vacation or there could be a death in the family or something unexpected. The thing is, it takes about 20 seconds to set your e-mail autoresponder to “Out of office. We appreciate your proposal, and we’ll get back to you on July 27.”

The issue goes beyond this web-based businesses. About a month ago I was in Best Buy–which usually has great customer service–to pick up a new TV. There were two people behind the customer service counter. One was helping the only other customer in line, and the other was…well, it looked like she was trying really hard to look busy. The first woman had done the right thing and told me that she’d be with me in a minute (again, that phrase makes a big difference), but as I stood there for 5, then 10 minutes, not only was the other woman not really doing anything, but she was actively ignoring me. You know what I mean–avoiding eye contact, walking more briskly than normal, etc. Yes, she was literally walking back and forth right in front of me, not acknowledging me at all. She was on the phone for part of that time, but she could have looked up and given me a look or something.

I’m not trying to sound like the victim here. I easily could have said something to this woman instead of getting pissed off about it. But honestly, I didn’t know what this woman’s job function was. I didn’t want to assume that she had the ability to help me (as it turned out, she did). Literally, all she had to do was look up and acknowledge me, and I wouldn’t be telling you this story.

I don’t want to point a finger at Best Buy. A similar situation happened at Walgreens a week ago. Not as pronounced, but still irking. I just don’t understand how you actively ignore someone who’s standing right in front of you. And frankly, I understand that there are some people who you really want to ignore. The people who want to interrupt you, pull you away from what you’re doing or talk with you while you’re in the middle of something. I am not one of those people, nor do I come off as one. When I’m in a Walgreens, the last thing I want to do is hang around and chat.

I want to end on a happy note. I was twice pleasantly surprised by the customer service at the Richmond Heights Schnucks today. First, I went to the deli counter and ordered some Boar’s Head turkey, thinly sliced. The woman cut one slice and held it in front of me, asking if it was thin enough. I said it was. She then did something that no one has ever done for me before at Schnucks. She asked me if I’d like to sample that slice while she cut the rest of the turkey. I hardly ever ask for samples or even take free samples when they’re out in grocery stores, but I was so caught off guard by this special service that I took the slice.

Then, later after I finished checking out, the cashier asked me if I needed any help taking my bags out to the car. Obviously I didn’t, but it was the thought that counts (I’m guessing that Schnucks has a new rule where they offer this service to all customers).

I walked away from the grocery store literally beaming. How often does that happen at a grocery store, particularly one that you’ve gone to every week for the last 6 years?

Of those four businesses, I have a feeling that Schnucks and I have a beautiful relationship in our future.