Customer School

Your Customers Didn’t Go To “Customer School”

[Revised re-post from Aug ’08]

I swiped my card and began to fill ‘er up. To my surprise, the pump’s display read $3.95 (not $3.90, like I’d seen on their street sign). I walked in to see the attendant and shared my observation. When he saw me, he took a break from the conversation he’d been having with a co-worker, listened to my concern, smiled, then turned and pointed to the sign above the price sign. He politely shared that $3.90 was displayed as a “CASH ONLY” price. I felt kind of silly for not having seen the bright yellow “CASH ONLY” sign and as I exited his store (laughing at myself) I thought, he was … polite about that. Surely I wasn’t the first one to ever make this mistake, yet many attendants would have likely given a gruff and annoyed response.


Stupid is as stupid does.

All too often, front-line employees get annoyed by “stupid” questions … and it shows. We’ve all probably had the experience of interacting with someone whom – no matter how hard they may try to hide it – is obviously annoyed by a question or concern we may have. There are no stupid questions.


“You forgot your referral?!?”

Have you ever been spoken down to, at a doctor’s office? Instead of getting upset with the patient who forgot to bring along their referral form (from the referring physician), why can’t they just remind us on the phone … while we’re making the appointment. I don’t ever remember making a doctor’s appointment and having the receptionist remind me of what to bring.

When I was selling cars in the 1990’s, I began to notice that most people would not bring us what we needed to complete a trade-in transaction. They would even forget to bring along their car’s title. I took a few minutes to put together a checklist for my clients and used it for the next 11 years. The checklist included things like title, lien release, extra keys/remotes, owner’s manual, etc. I would then e-mail my clients this checklist (also notifying them that most people leave behind garage door clickers, E-Z Passes, CDs and sunglasses). Aside from wowing the inventory manager and impressing the future owner of that vehicle with a complete set of keys, remotes and an owner’s manual … my clients felt totally prepared for their visit. “You’ve thought of everything,” they’d often say.

How could clients regularly forget that we’d need their car’s title? Because clients don’t go to client school. There are plenty of employees out there making an effort to have their clients feel bad in situations like this, for having forgotten to do “their part.”


Your Choice

You have the unique opportunity of distinguishing yourself from your competition. Will you choose to react gruffly … or respond kindly? When I walked away from that gas station attendant, I immediately realized that he was different from most people. Consider the subtle – yet very important – impact you are having on your clients. Your next moment of truth is right around the corner.

[This is a revised re-post from Aug ’08]


  1. Phil Smith III says

    Nicely put. And re your car-buyer’s checklist: You’re ahead of the curve here, but if you haven’t, read The Checklist Manifesto. It’s a quick read and a great little book. I just reread it, bought two copies to inflict on cow-orkers who need it!


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