When butterflies turn ugly

January 19, 2011 · 3 comments

quotation about customers

It has happened to you. It is probably happening at your printing firm.

You visit a local department store. When you walk into the shoe department seeking assistance, you notice the clerks seem indifferent and distracted. As it turns out, they aren’t talking to customers. They are grousing with each other about something that one of the store managers said about their department. Finally, after a long wait, one of the clerks notices you and walks over to ask if you have any questions. When you mention that your daughters would like to try on some new tennis shoes, it almost seems like a bother to her to help.

This actually happened to me last night at a large national sporting goods store here in Fargo. My wife Jenny was working late at our business and asked if I would take the kids to the store after dinner to get new tennis shoes. Since it was 17° below zero last night in Fargo, I thought the stores would probably be slow, so it would be a good night to go shopping.

The clerk I mentioned earlier was very dutiful in her approach and actually got four or five different pairs of shoes for each of my girls to try on. But that was all she did. Both of my girls were having a hard time finding the right shoe that would feel comfortable on their foot. The clerk never once helped either of my daughters put the shoes on their feet, lace them up, or take them off. When a particular shoe didn’t work, she never suggested an alternative. After about an hour of “self-service” shopping, we left and decided to try again another time. We had every intention of buying two new pairs of shoes, and I expected I would be spending $150. Instead, the store made no sale because of their clerk’s inattention and lack of enthusiasm, and my kids and I went home disappointed.

All of us in business can learn something from these kinds of experiences. Poor service can have a dramatic impact on your printing firm. Brief encounters often have a far greater impact than you know. They magnify and grow. A single episode of poor service can become geometrically disproportionate to the money involved in the transaction. The event may even be isolated and uncommon, but for the single customer who receives poor service, that experience could become the tipping point that leads them to do business elsewhere in the future. Much is at stake when you provide poor service.

What we see here is the butterfly effect: where the fluttering of a butterfly’s tiny wings in northern China results in a hurricane in North Carolina the following month.

Many of us in the printing industry have trimmed our staff size. We must be careful that we are still providing excellent service, even though we may have fewer customer service workers. As managers, we must continually support, encourage, and remind our coworkers of the importance of providing excellent customer service… to every single customer.

For over 20 years, I had little 8 1/2″ by 11″ signs hanging around my printing firm to remind my employees what Tom Watson, the founder of IBM, said about customer service:

“Customers are not an interruption to our work. Customers are the purpose of our work.”

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Farquharson January 20, 2011 at 11:19 am

Mike, it’s service like you described that makes walking into a store like Nordstrom or Apple such a pleasure. Are they doing something extraordinary or is typical retail service so bad that it makes basics like, “Can I help you?” seem special?

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Jeff Lindler January 19, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Thanks Mike – I, too, will be inspired by the Tom Watson quote you mentioned.

Jeff Lindler

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David January 19, 2011 at 3:23 pm

I had a similar experience at a shoe store! My mother purchased a pair of Birkenstocks at a local store and had a wonderful experience. She took me there to get a pair as well since I have always wanted a pair. The same person that helped her get exactly what she needed was not there that day (the Owner). Instead of him being there he had his daughter and her boyfriend. Both of them “worked” there. She didn’t do much but sit and talk and he didn’t know anything about what he was doing.

I told him I was looking for a pair of Birkenstocks and he asked me my shoe size. After I told him he asked me if I knew what style I wanted and when I said I didn’t he looked around some and talked under his breath and then turned to me and asked if I wanted to try on HIS Birkenstocks to see if I liked the style! What in the world! We left shortly thereafter and never went back. The store is no longer in business. Before the daughter came to work for him the owner had operated his store successfully for at least 20 years.

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