Whether you are an in-house designer in a large corporation, a partner in an agency or a sole proprietor, you’re in customer service. All that we do as commercial artists is to serve our clients to the best of our ability. So what happens when you’re crazy-busy, facing looming deadlines, and you get word that a new client wants to do business with you? Or that one of your old standby, bread-and-butter clients has a job that simply HAS to get done? How you treat these seeming interruptions reflects on your company, your professionalism and your future business.
Make no mistake…customer service is every bit as important in the graphic arts and consulting business as it is in retail. But for the sake of this article, I’m going to give you two examples of bad service I recently received at the hand of two retail establishments. The lessons learned can be applied to any business.
Bad Customer Service Experience #1: Who the heck are you?
I discovered a certain bagel establishment shortly after I moved to Central Massachusetts in 2005 and had been going there about once a month. When I joined Toastmasters three years ago, I was delighted to realize that the bagel place was on my way to the meeting, so I was stopping there every week for breakfast and to buy a dozen bagels. Just to be clear, I have been a customer of theirs for more than ten years.
“Bill” has worked the front counter ever since I started going there and has never spoken to me except to ask for my order. He greets other customers with a hearty hello, asks about their families and generally chats them up, but I guess I’m just chopped liver to him. I tried to be as polite with Bill as I could, but his casual disregard over the years was really starting to get to me.
One morning on my way to Toastmasters, I realized I’d left my wallet at home. But I had five dollars on me, enough for breakfast…or so I thought. Bill and a new employee, “Betty,” were working on my order. When the total was rung up, I saw that I was 60¢ short. I told Betty that I needed to go out to the car to get some change to make up the difference. Rather than let it go, she said OK and set my order aside. I was able to scrounge up 55¢ in the car and gave it to Betty with an apology. She didn’t give me my food. Another customer noticed what was going on and gave me the five cents needed to settle up. After handing over the nickel, Betty handed over the food.
OK, I get it, Betty doesn’t want a short register on the first day on the job. But all the while, Bill said nothing in my defense and Betty was totally inflexible. The result? They lost a customer they’d had for a decade over 60¢.
Learn who your clients are so you’ll know who is giving you repeat business. If it won’t cost you an arm and a leg, cut them some slack if they’re experiencing a cash flow problem. If they’re repeat customers and you provide a needed service, not only will they make it up to you, they’ll tell the whole world about how you helped them out when times were tough. Wouldn’t you rather have people telling their friends and colleagues about how great you are than how surly and cheap you can be?
Bad Customer Service Experience #2: Beat it, I’m busy!
My mother-in-law’s favorite restaurant happens to be next door to a nail salon. So when my husband and I took her out to eat, I thought it would be nice if she and I could get our nails done together. After we finished our meal, I went to the salon to see if they had any openings. A sign in the window read “Walk-ins Welcome,” so I walked in. The place was empty except for a lady getting a manicure and a mature woman who was working with the client. I assumed the mature woman was the owner.
“Do you have the capacity to accept two walk-ins this afternoon?” I asked.
“For what?” the owner responded.
“Manicures.” I replied.
Her response was brief, a cross between a derisive snort and a word: “Nuh-ho.” (To get the right tone, imagine a surly teenager saying it.)
I was pretty taken aback. Here I was, a first-time visitor with cash money to spend. Because I was planning on stopping by every time we took the MIL out to eat, I could’ve become a long-term client. Instead, I said “OK” and walked right out the door, never to return.
If you are too busy to take on new clients, it can seem like a real inconvenience when people inquire about your services. Gracefully telling them that you can’t help them now now but would be happy to work with them at a less busy time in the future can be a wonderful start to a relationship. But blowing them off with a single word is a great way to alienate prospects and to generate negative publicity.
The Golden Rule
It’s simplicity itself: “Treat others as you would have them treat you.” With attention spans diminishing and options increasing, can any of us afford to offer such bad customer service as illustrated in these examples? You start dropping clients and there will always be someone there to pick them up and take care of them.