Article by: Karl Walinskas
Yesterday I had to ship a compact disc changer for my car back to the manufacturer for repair. I took the goods to a little outfit called MailBoxes, Etc. Ive used them before; a decent outfit. Well, one girl behind the counter rang me up while the other packaged the unit. They couldnt use my box because of UPS regulations--no problem. The bill was $12.93. I had some change I wanted to evacuate from my pockets so I gave the clerk $13.03, with the last dollar in quarters. If youve ever overpaid with an oddball amount of change in order to avoid getting back pennies, you probably know how this can short-circuit the brain of the average sales clerk. Kaboom! Anyway, she took the moolah and didnt give me back my dime, which of course I asked for so the stores books would balance, you see.
"You dont get any change. In fact, you came up ten cents short, but I figured Id cut you a break."
"With all due respect Miss, I gave you $13.03--a ten spot, two singles, four quarters, and three little pennies."
"No you didnt. You gave me three quarters and a dime."
Quickly engaging the steel-trap mathematical section of my mind, I realized that her scenario would have left me five cents short, not the ten that she originally said. Besides, I still had two nickels in my pocket. If Id had a dime, I could have given exact change, for Petes sake! Well, it wasnt worth arguing over even though I was upset over the principal of the thing, so I told her to forget it. The clerk proceeded to one-up me by opening the cash drawer and giving me the dime with a disgusted look on her face as if I was the jerk here. I left the store saying thanks for all the help and received no reply from either employee.
This little experience left me talking to myself (yelling is more like it) for the next fifteen minutes. How dare she treat a customer like that? Readers, you know I was right of course, but even if I was wrong, are clerks today trained to argue with a customer over ten cents, or less than one tenth of one percent of the total bill? Whatever happened to "the customer is always right" and "king customer"? This experience was unpleasant for me, so no more business to that store in the future. I like to be treated right, whether its at work, the store, or at home.
Here comes the cheap little secret. Ill remind you its not new. About two thousand years ago, some guy had this saying, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." He was a pretty popular guy at the time, until some other guys got jealous and found a way to get rid of him in a nasty way. That point of wisdom has stood the test of time--you may have heard it. Lets go even further back. What about, "Youll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar." Since only little boys still catch flies with the macabre desire to pluck their wings off, I bet that quote comes from Aristotle or some other thinker from B.C., when flies had some nutritional or medicinal value. Point simplified: treat people nice and theyll treat you nice back. Its contagious! Humans cant help it. Hello--business people--interpret nice as customers giving you money.
My experience has been that too many people are upset these days to treat others nice. Life is tough, were all too busy, and we have to prove our superiority to others continually. Good Lord, we cant ever eat a slice of humble pie, can we? Being courteous and pleasant is part of a sound communications success plan.
Same day as the shipping story, Im leaving a public parking lot across from the YMCA. Theres a short line of cars to pay the gal at the gate that I need to make a left turn into. Some dude in the line sees me but pretends he doesnt, pulling and stopping directly in front of me so I cant get in. Has that one ever happened to you? Three other people do the same thing until a little old lady lets me in. "Thank you! Thank you! Youre a life-saver" I said using hand signals.
If you think that this months column is condescending for its own sake and has nothing to do with your business, think again. Example: one company that Ive used in three different states for my tires and basic car service is Goodyear. In my experience, Goodyear teaches their franchisees how to treat people. You feel like a friend, not some schmuck off the street who has the honor to give the repairman your hard-earned cash. In Kingston, PA, my friend Tom Tranguch owns T&F Tire, a Goodyear retailer. Same story, different town. I know all the sales gang and half the mechanics on a first name basis. They make it a point to know me too, and my wife, and my dogs name, and my likes and dislikes. They go out of their way to service my car on a spur-of-the-moment basis. I feel like king customer again. T&F Tire isnt the cheapest place I can go to take my car for service, but for me, theyre the best. Tommy even ate several hundred dollars in labor trying to fix an electrical problem on my truck because he thought his guys should have had it done in a half hour. Ive happily given them several thousand dollars worth of business in the last five years and referred others to them. Now theyre busy, frantic trying to serve customers, and have bad days just like the rest of us, but their lot is always full. Why do you think that is?
Folks, we all know that common courtesy and decency should govern our behavior all the time, but sometimes life takes over and--well--you know. We all put our pants on one leg at a time, we all have problems, and we all like to be treated with respect and have a pleasant experience every time we interact with others. We just have to remember it, even when our egos, personal difficulties, or the weather make us feel otherwise. Hold the door for someone today. Really mean it when you greet someone with, "Hows it going?" Catch one of your employees doing something right and say thanks. Treat your customers today like you recognize that theyre the lifeblood of your business; they are.
Here comes the best part. Courtesy, decency, and smiles are free. If you get anything in return for them that means that your return on investment is like--billions! I told you that you probably wouldnt learn anything new here today. Let this little vignette serve as a gentle reminder of those words of that famous teacher whose life we base our calendar. Treat other people the way you want to be treated and you cant help but succeed in communication and in life.
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