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Good customer service is easy once you change your attention from business-driven to customer-focused. The ironic thing about this premise is that with better customer service, your business profits too. Here are a couple of stories about good customer service:

Stew Leonard owns farm dairy stores in Connecticut.

He once had a customer who brought back a container of egg nog and told Stew that it was sour.

Stew immediately became very defensive and said, “That is impossible. Our egg nog is fresh every day!”

He went home and told his wife Mary Ann what happened.  After he told the story, Mary Ann said, “Why would you do that? The customer is always right. Do you know what we as customers do when we are treated that way? We quit shopping at that store!”

That was a wake-up call for Stew, and he had a large stone engraved in front of his store that read:

“Rule 1, the customer is always right.
Rule 2, if the customer is ever wrong, reread rule 1.”

He said several weeks later at Thanksgiving time, a customer brought back the carcass of a turkey and said, “This turkey wasn’t any good.”

Stew replied, “No problem I can give you another turkey or your money back.”

A couple of years after I had been with Walmart, I found a video with a message from Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart.  In the video Mr. Walton said,

“I don’t  think we are doing enough for our customers, so today if a customer comes in and buys a fishing rod, and he goes fishing, and he falls and breaks that rod on a rock and brings it back, I want you to give him a new fishing rod.”

When I joined Walmart in Olean, New York, we had a terrible customer service score. The store manager turned the issue over to me.

I told him about Stew’s story, and his response was, “Do whatever you have to do to get that score up.”

I met with our Service Desk associates, and I told them my job was to help them get a better score, and we would no longer question any returns.  Now you can imagine their reaction, especially coming from the new guy. Several asked to talk to the store manager, and his response was, “Ron is in charge of the Service Desk.”

After they calmed down, I asked them:

“What percentage of returns do you think are people taking advantage of us?”

“One percent.”

“Why would we risk antagonizing 99% of our customers because of that 1%?”

I told them the story from Stew Leonard. The next month our customer service numbers were excellent, and there was less stress at the service desk.

Plus our sales went up!

Customer service is the most important thing in a business, if your customer service is bad, you will fail.

Customer service isn’t just for retail, it is for all businesses. Make the customer happy and they’ll return with their friends. Let them down and the whole world will hear about it.

Ron Orris is the Executive Director of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, where he has led the chamber in its adoption of social media and is a strong proponent for blogging as a way to reach your audience. Under his leadership membership has increased 40% over the past two years. He has also served as the city controller for the City of Bradford and as a store manager for Walmart, a position he values as teaching him a lot about customer service.