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    Never Let the Customer Leave Unhappy

    In this economy, retailers can't control gas margins, cigarette legislation, credit card rates, minimum wage increases and lack of customers' disposable income, to name a few things. What retailers can control is customer service.

    By Dean Dirks, Dirks & Associates

    In this economy, retailers can't control gas margins, cigarette legislation, credit card rates, minimum wage increases and lack of customers' disposable income, to name a few things.

    What retailers can control is customer service. I started working in my father's grocery stores at 8 years of age. My father never heard of inventory turns, category management, merchandising or most of the complex retail tools we use every day.

    What he did know was customer service. My father, who was German, didn't understand gray areas. These were his non-negotiable principles:

    1. We were required to look customers in the eye and greet them as they entered the store.
    2. If a customer was looking for a product, we asked the customer if she needed help and walked her to the product.
    3. If a customer asked for a product that was out on the shelf, we looked for it in the backroom.
    4. We apologized for any inconveniences and offered solutions. For example: "We are out of chicken broth but I can order some for you on Wednesday and hold it for you."
    5. When we rang the customer out, you looked the customer in the eye and earnestly said "Thank you." My father would lose his German temper if you said, "have a nice day."
    6. My father adamantly believed "Thank You" expressed to the customer our appreciation for their business.
    7. You didn't ask to carry customer's groceries out; you grabbed the bags and headed out the door.
    8. His final law was never let a customer leave the store unhappy. I remember him refunding money, giving away products, giving kid's candy, whatever he had to do to make the customer happy.

    I visit quick-service restaurants (QSRs) all the time to keep updated on the industry. Here are some of customer service highlights I observed over the last couple of weeks:

    1. At the front counter of a Subway, an employee didn't greet or offer to help me. He just stood and looked at me until I ordered. After I ordered, he acted like he was doing me a favor to make my sandwich.
    2. I drove through a McDonald's drive thru and ordered a Coke. The employee handed it to me and I said, "thanks," she said "no problem."
    3. At Wendy's, I ordered a cheeseburger without lettuce in the drive-thru. As I pulled away, I noticed it had lettuce. I had to stop my car, go inside, wait in line, and ask an employee to make me a new burger. I saw him go over and scrape the lettuce off. I told him I hated lettuce on a burger. He proceeded to argue with me that the bun was perfectly fine. He didn't apologize or offer to refund my money.
    4. I ordered fries at Burger King and when I started eating them, they were greasy and cold. I asked for a fresh order. The employee told me they were fine and said if I wanted some fresh ones it would be a 15 minute wait. I was on my way to the movies so I left without eating the fries or getting a refund.

    I could go on and on about the poor customer service I have received and I am sure you have had similar experiences.

    But there is hope; I was in a Taco Bell last week with my son. They made a mistake on our order and it took a great deal of time to get the order corrected. The assistant manager delivered the order to our table, apologized for the wait, said the order was free and handed my son a bag of churros for the inconvenience.

    Where am I going to dine? Subway, Wendy’s, McDonald's, Burger King, or Taco Bell? They are all furiously competing for my dollar and one assistant manager won my business based on my father's simple principle I learned at age 8: "Never let the customer leave unhappy."

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