LENA MITCHELL: Good customer service remains key to doing business

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

Customer service – good customer service – has been on my mind quite a bit lately. For a number of years many experts on how to grow your business have emphasized the need for good customer service as a cornerstone.
We think about customer service every day as we conduct our personal business: Is the restaurant server deserving of a good tip? Do I need to write a complaint letter, phone call or email because I didn’t get what was promised? Did an employee make me wait unnecessarily to be served while on a personal phone call?
And my focus on customer service has been heightened by a Daily Journal training program for all company employees that focuses on good customer service.
I am still puzzled by a recent difficulty with one local retailer regarding the exchange of less than $50 in merchandise.
The college years for my niece Faye, who lives in Birmingham, Ala., are long behind her. However, she has made it her mission to help her cousin, Domonique, with acquiring all of the necessities of dorm life as she enters Northeast Mississippi Community College in the fall.
Faye assured Domonique that she would make the purchases at a store where Domonique would be able to make exchanges if all the choices didn’t suit her. Faye then delivered about half a truckload of items in late June, with more to come, she said.
Among the items was a bed-in-a-bag set and some towel colors that Domonique wanted to change, so we went to the same Corinth retailer with her merchandise and what we thought was satisfactory evidence of the purchases, though not the receipt. After all, we only wanted to make exchanges.
Two staff members at the customer service counter – a male and a female – informed us that they were unable to help us without a receipt. After Faye scanned and emailed copies of the receipts, we returned to the store.
After some retail doublespeak about how they couldn’t access information through their computer system about the transactions in Birmingham, these same two staff members finally obtained approval from the store manager to issue a merchandise credit gift card in the amount of the purchases.
At last. That’s all we wanted in the first place.
Now, I understand that businesses have rules and very good reasons for set policies.
However, when an employee’s role is customer service, training should include the fact that not every situation will fit neatly into the policy framework.
In the situation I’ve just described, in our first visit to the store those two employees seemed to take pleasure in telling us they were unable to help us. Even if that were true, what I would have appreciated was a statement such as, “We may not be able to help you without the receipt, but let me check and see what we can do.”
In that instance, the employee would be accepting responsibility to pursue a satisfactory resolution before pronouncing that no solution could be found, and I would have been much less irritated at having to return to the store a second time.
One of the handouts from our training sessions includes a quote from evangelical preacher Chuck Swindoll that I think is useful to everyone who must interact with the public, and certainly anyone in customer service:
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, or say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company … a church … a home.
“The remarkable thing is that we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you. You, alone, are in charge of your attitude.”
Lena Mitchell writes a monthly Sunday column for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802 or at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.