A Customer Service Short Story
Paula is an Emergency Room nurse at the local hospital, who works on the 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift. It had been a rough night and one of the worst in a long time. Many nights the complaints that people came to the ER with could be attended to in a doctor’s office, if a doctor was available at that time of the night; but last night was different.
There had been a horrible five-vehicle accident on the Interstate, and although all the staff really pulled together and worked very hard as a team, they lost two people and three others were in critical condition, while others had non-life threatening injuries.
Losing the mother of twin two-year old boys who was expecting the couple’s third child affected Paula deeply. She silently mourned for the young husband and the two little boys. She sat in her car for a moment and said a quiet prayer.
As she drove out of the parking lot, all she wanted to do was to get home, grab a shower and crawl into bed. But wait! It was Saturday morning and she had to stop at the Farmer’s Market to get some fresh fruits and vegetables. She was also out of some organic products, like flax seed, chia seed, and a few more things that were on her list. She breathed a sigh of relief that she had made a list yesterday. She did not think she had the energy to walk up and down the aisles in an effort to jog her memory.
Paula really missed her colleague and best friend, Belinda, this morning. She was also a nurse at the hospital and they worked the same shift, but on another floor. Paula loved shopping with Belinda, who had an infectious laugh that invariably brought smiles to the faces of people who heard her. Belinda would have found something positive and funny to say that would have lightened her mood and make her laugh. Whenever she questioned why she continued to work in an environment where she saw so much pain, suffering, and even death, Belinda would remind her of her purpose, their purpose: to serve others, alleviate their pain, and in their small way make a difference in the lives of others. But Belinda was off this weekend, and she deserved every moment.
Paula was about to drive pass Bob’s Fresh Market as she had done for 5 years. Somehow this morning she did not feel like driving another 3 miles to Maxim’s Fresh and Organic Foods; it was two miles out of her way. She wasn’t sure why she made a snap decision to stop at Bob’s Fresh Market, but she slowed down and slowly turned her car into the parking lot.
Getting out of the car, she took a deep breath as she remembered her last visit to the Fresh Market. As she walked in, there was Bob, the owner, dressed in his standard attire of forest-green polo shirt and khaki pants with a white apron emblazoned with his business logo. He looked up and saw her and the look on his face was so very welcoming. Paula immediately felt like she was a long lost child being welcomed home. “Hello there, Paula, good to see you. Had a rough night, huh? I heard it on the news this morning.”
Paula was almost speechless and perhaps because she was already emotional this morning, she felt tears well up in her eyes. She had not been in the store for almost five years yet Bob remembered her name and where she worked! “Good morning, Bob. Good to see you too. Yes, it was a rough night.”
“Well, I know you’re probably exhausted and want to get home. What can I help you with this morning?”
Paula reached into her bag, pulled out the shopping list and handed it to Bob. There were several employees around and Bob did not need to do this, but he looked at her list and said, “Why don’t you go ahead and select your fruits and vegetables, while I get your other items for you?”
As Paula passed a couple of the employees she smiled with them, but wondered if “he” was still working there. She remembered how rude he was when she’d simply asked a question. And when she commented on the pears, that they were much larger than she liked to buy…she liked the smaller ones, he made a sarcastic comment under his breath, just loud enough for her to hear. She had put down the almost full basket of items in anger and decided then and there that she did not need to spend her money where she was not appreciated. As she moved towards the door she wanted to say something to Bob, but he was speaking with another customer, so she just walked out off the store vowing never to come back.
Of course, Belinda saw her walk out and hurried over to find out what was wrong. When Paula told her, she too walked out and they drove out together and headed to Maxim’s. Naturally, they shared the story with other nurses, some of whom may have decided that they did not want to have that experience either and stopped shopping at Bob’s.
As she came back to the present, Paula decided that Bob was too nice a person not to say something to him. She had to let him know, because he was only human and was probably wondering why she suddenly stopped shopping there after being one of his first customers, and a loyal shopper for four years. Now she just came back for the first time in five years; appearing out of the blue, as it were.
She double-checked her list and headed toward the other side of the store when she saw Bob walking towards her with a basket with her organic products. She thanked him and said, “Bob, can I talk to you for a moment in your office?” “Sure, Paula, come this way.” As he opened the door and invited her to sit she told him exactly what happed almost five years ago: the poor customer service, the rude behavior of the employee, how the incident made her feel and why she made the decision to stop shopping there.
Bob thanked her for sharing her story and apologized profusely. He told her that the person she had that encounter with was no longer working there as he had displayed similar behavior to another customer. That customer was very vocal about it in the store so he heard the commotion and investigated. He further explained that several of his employees later told him they were glad the young man was no longer working there are he did not seem to care that his attitude and conduct were not in line with the culture of the business.
Since that time, he started having semi-monthly staff meetings to get feedback from employees and also to reaffirm that each employee knew the company’s expectations of how every customer should be treated. He’d also started a program where customers could give ‘kudos’ to an employee whom they felt displayed excellent customer service.
Bob also told her about the Loyalty Program he now had and explained how it worked. Paula was delighted, and as she walked to the checkout line, she felt as if she had come home. She knew Belinda would feel the same way.
Customer Lifetime Value
As Paula closed the door, Bob took out a yellow pad and pencil and began writing, after which he punched some numbers in the calculator. When he was all done, he rubbed the heel of his palm over his forehead and blew out a deep breath.
You see, Bob wrote the following:
52 weeks = 1 year. Assuming that Paula shopped at the Fresh Market 48 weeks in the year and that she spent, say $30 (even though her bill today was closer to $70) = $1,440 x 5 years = $7,200.00
If her friend Belinda did the same =$7,200.00. So over five years he lost $14,400 in sales from just two customers.
Customers talk. They will share their bad experiences with family and friends. Bob also knows firsthand that nurses talk and share among themselves. His wife had been a nurse and she knew everything that went on because nurses talked together in their groups in the dining room and at the Nurses Station. So, how many customers had he lost just from the hospital because of this one employee’s behavior?
As he closed his eyes and went through the images in his mind, he knew that lots of medical staff shopped there but he now recalled a couple of other nurses who worked nights that he had not seen in quite a while. Did they move on, or did they stop shopping there because of poor customer experience, whether directly to them or to someone else they knew? How many more “Paula’s” were there?
Customer Acquisition Costs
Bob knew he had acquired new customers over the past five years, but he also knew that it had cost him a lot in traditional ads and direct mail. He’d also spent a lot on Google and social media ads. Because of his prime location and proximity to the hospital and other medical facilities, as well as the new Fitness Center, he had a steady stream of customers. But his loyal customers were people like Paula and Belinda with whom he had built a relationship. Customers like these reduced customer acquisition costs as they not only spent more over time, but also were happy to tell others about him and his business.
It is easy for businesses to think they’re doing everything right, and many businesses fail to take advantage of a valuable resource they have at their fingertips – their customers. Business owners and professionals are usually too close to their business to see the full picture. Your customers will often see a lot and will be happy to tell you what you could be doing better.
Remember that the success of your business depends on your customers. How they perceive your business is going to make the difference between being loyal customers and advocates, and customers who are willing to jump ship quickly when they find another business that satisfies their needs more effectively.
According to research by Bruce Tempkin, Tempkin Experience Ratings, 2011, companies were judged on three categories: Functionality, Accessibility, and Emotional connection. Bob wanted to be sure that his business met and exceeded these criteria. He realized that while he had put in place a system to recognize employees for their going above and beyond to deliver excellent customer service, it would be wise to ask his customers for their feedback on how the company was doing. One his favorite quotes was, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” ~ Abraham Lincoln. He wanted to be not just good; he wanted every customer who walked through the doors of Bob’s Fresh Market to have a delightful and memorable experience.
“Whatever you are, be a good one.” Abraham Lincoln
One of the statistics Bob had above his desk read,
“81% of companies with strong capabilities and competencies for delivering customer experience excellence are outperforming their competition.” ~ Peppers & Rogers Group, Customer Experience Maturity Monitor, 2009.
To achieve these objectives, Bob knew it was going to take teamwork, and he had no doubt that he had some of the best employees in place. But he also needed a structure and an organized system. He also had to have more cohesion between offline and online activities. He looked at his calendar and began making phone calls to schedule a meeting with his Customer Relationship Specialist, his Accountant, and Department Managers.
He’d read a recent survey by Loyalty One which revealed that “approximately half of 2,500 U.S. consumers polled reported experiencing a problem on their last shopping trip. Of those customers, 81% decided not to contact the retailer about the issue. Among these silent shoppers, 32% said they were unlikely to recommend the retailer to friends and family, putting these shoppers at-risk of decreasing their spend with the retailer.” He was grateful that Paula came in this morning and revealed what he missed so long ago.
It was time to take Bob’s Fresh Market up a notch in becoming known for superior customer service and delivering customer service excellence.
If you enjoyed this short Customer Service story, please leave a comment below. Even if you did not, I’d love to hear from you and get your feedback 🙂 Thank you for reading.