Whatever happened to old fashioned customer service? The kind you remember as a kid…especially if you grew up in a small town or close-knit neighborhood. The butcher gave your dog-in-tow a fresh bone… there were no rules back then preventing pet dogs from coming into a butcher shop. The gas station attendant washed your windshield and checked your engine fluids while your car was being filled with gas. And, you got credit because of who you were, not because of a plastic card or a merchant account.
We did not remember it back then as great service, just typical neighborly care by local employees with plenty of time to leisurely serve one customer at a time. They worked for an enterprise with reasonably healthy margins, friendly competition–and without the scrutiny of regulators, the screams of litigious consumers, or the impatience of shareholders demanding quarterly earnings. They served customers with limited choices, relatively low service expectations, and plenty of time to wait. But, even though times have changed and business pressures are daunting, customers can still get what we label today “old fashioned hometown service.”
Hometown service was monogrammed…because everyone knew everyone. Today, we have countless ways to capture customer information that can enable us to tailor the customer’s experience. The Oconee Wine Cellar near me started a wine club with a free bottle of the “wine of the month” after you buy so many bottles. But, the main thing the owner captured was his customers’ email addresses to send out a monthly e-newsletter and their birthday (month and day) to send them a birthday card.
Hometown service was generous…because well-treated customers came back. A friend of mine shops at an L.L. Bean store. When he bought a shirt, he mentioned to the sales clerk that the top button was a bit too tight. She offered to have the tailor on-the-spot move the button while he continued to shop. And, for his patience, she offered free monograming. It so happens he writes a monthly newspaper column in a major metropolitan area. His advocacy for L. L. Bean has no doubt driven enough customers into the store to more than make up for the cost of her generosity. Just like the neighborhood merchant in our hometown knew, great customer service is an investment, not a cost.
Hometown service was filled with surprise…because happy customers told stories about an unexpected gesture. The grocer in my hometown gave kids free fireballs—a super-hot cinnamon hard candy that turned your mouth red! When my dry cleaning service failed to get my dress shirts finished by late Saturday afternoon before my Sunday flight, the owner offered to finish the clothes after closing time and bring them to my house before I left the following morning for the airport. I was blown away by the surprise!
It is the season of serving and giving. And, customers still desire service that is customized, bighearted and filled with delight. Give your customers the kind of service experience that makes them “feel at home” being served by a neighbor or friend, not a retailer or vendor.