What’s right with those people?

A miscellany:

  • Okay, I've tracked down your order.We had to special-order some additional items for our kitchen remodeling.  We were confused by the plethora of numbers, and by the fact that three receipts somehow translated into four purchase orders.  The customer-service clerk highlighted the P.O. numbers, then gave us the name, phone extension, and working hours for the expediter who could track down where the stuff was.
  • I needed to rent the hardware store’s truck yet again (because kitchen cabinets rarely fit into a Honda Civic).  As the clerk filled out paperwork, I talked about how confused all that item-tracking had gotten us.  “You’ve had enough trouble,” she said.  “I’m not going to charge you for the truck.”
  • Best Buy sent me a discount coupon some time ago.  I put it in a pocket but forgot to use it.  The coupon went through the wash: nice and clean, but completely illegible.  I kept meaning to take it to the store and ask if there was anything to be done.Yesterday, a robo-call from Best Buy, reminding me that the coupon will expire in a few weeks.  And, if I didn’t have the coupon, I could go to the website and reprint it.

Here’s what I see going on:

Not just feeding you a line.The first Home Depot clerk recognized two things: an actual problem, and the limits on her ability to resolve it.  “Call the store in the morning” isn’t usually satisfactory; I think the average customer sees “the store” as a private-sector version of “the government.”  How do you get things done?  You talk to somebody—a specific somebody.  By giving me the expediter’s name, number, and hours, the clerk threw a useful lifeline, rather than saying “tread water till tomorrow.”

The second clerk’s actions say to me that she has enough flexibility to waive a minor charge in order to demonstrate the value of the customer to the store.  I’m assuming that the store management has made that flexibility explicit.  You can’t provide service if there’s nothing to serve.

In the third case, Best Buy sees its relationship with me as a relationship, not just an opportunity to try and sell me more stuff.  “Did Dave forget his coupon?”  “Maybe he lost it.”  “Well, let’s make it easy for him to get it back.”

What’s all this got to do with training or learning?  Performance, and how it happens.  I’m not saying every employer should offer free truck rentals (though free home delivery from Starbuck’s would be cool).

I am saying that you can study examples like these, not in a monkey-see “best practice” way.  You can use them as launch pads to think about how you connect with your customers .  You can ask (at the organizational, process, and individual-performer levels) what can we do?  What can we do better?

…In that last paragraph, I’d originally written “your customers (and vendors and coworkers).”  Then I found this great photo that demonstrates yet another way to treat people as people:

We're busy, but usually we're not rude on purpose.

CC licensed bloodhound photo by Ms. Tina
CC licensed lifeline photo by wharman.
CC licensed “cranking” photo by Aleksi Aaltonen.