We live in a remarkable time in the history of the world.  The technology and standard of living enjoyed by developed countries truly boggles the imagination.  The accessibility of knowledge, information, entertainment and communication through the World Wide Web is beyond imagination.  Because of this information and technology revolution, there is very little that happens in the world that those of the world don’t know about.  Almost any event can be described as the “shot heard ‘round the world”.  The phrase is found in the opening stanza of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” and describes the impact of the battle at Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775 that ushered in the American Revolutionary War.

We are experiencing a communications revolution that has been ushered in through a literal explosion of technology.  Computers and smart phones make knowledge, information and communications just a mere thought away.  With this long introduction, I want to emphasize the importance of customer service, both from an “excellent customer service is the right thing to do” and “if you don’t provide excellent customer service the whole world will hear about it” point of view.  Recently I wrote an article about a salesperson’s bucket of opportunity.  In that article I said that your bucket of opportunity is filled with every sale you have ever made.  Every act of customer service, quality, attention to detail, kindness, patience, on time delivery, customer satisfaction and every other sales detail appreciated by your customers goes into the bucket.  Once these actions and details go into the bucket, they will stay there until you draw them out.  What will you draw from your bucket of opportunity?

Three of the most valuable commodities a sales person could every dream of are:

  1. Additional sales to your customers
  2. Referrals to new potential customers 
  3. Letters of recommendation.

The following is a customer service story I pieced together from a recent posting on facebook.  I followed up with the parties involved and extracted the entire incredible event.  The story involves a young mother of two small children who was grocery shopping at Fry’s Food Stores late on a Saturday evening and the Front End Manager of Fry’s.  The following statements are from the original facebook postings and subsequent emails and conversation that were shared by the persons involved.

First posting on Fry’s facebook:  “Hey Fry’s – Had an awful experience trying to redeem a competitor’s coupon at your Ray and Mtn. Park location tonight. Fresh & Easy email coupons that were sent to their email list.  I tried to use one tonight and was told you don’t accept printed coupons because anyone could copy it.  Funny, I can print coupons off your website!  Why the double standard?  The worst part was the humiliation heaped on me by Assistant Front End Manager (name withheld), for trying to redeem the legit coupon and returning some of the items I was going to purchase to meet the coupon’s terms ($10 off $50). Someone who tells a customer “I can’t read your mind!” and “I’m only talking to you the way you’re talking to me.” shouldn’t have Manager anywhere on his nametag. He was so rude other shoppers followed me out to my car to tell me I shouldn’t have been treated that way. 
There are several grocery stores in this area and I thought Fry’s believed in customer service. Guess I was wrong.”

Fry’s Face Book response: “Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns and please accept our sincere apologies for this experience. We constantly emphasize friendly, courteous customer service is what our customers are to receive when shopping with us.  The coupon you described should have been accepted.  If you would privately provide us with your contact information by emailing frys.vip.department@frysfood.com we’d like the opportunity to help resolve this situation.  Also, the store manager and assistant store manager have been notified and invite you to speak to them directly.  Thanks again and we look forward to speaking with you.”

Personal email sent to Fry’s to further explain poor customer service:  “Hi there.  First of all I would like to thank you for responding so quickly to my Face Book post.  Since it was Saturday night when the incident occurred I felt it was my only course of action.  Second, I would like to explain more fully what happened on Saturday night.  The employee, (name withheld), obviously did not see anything wrong with the way he spoke to me, because as I was writing down his name (shaking as I did it – seriously in shock that a grocery store “manager” would talk to a customer this way) he was volunteering his manager and assistant manager’s names to me and told me to feel free to contact them.  

After (name withheld) refused my Fresh & Easy coupon I asked him to explain why he wouldn’t take it.  He couldn’t give me a clear explanation that fit with the coupon policy that I know Fry’s has (I’m not a huge “couponer”, but I know general policies of the stores I shop). So I continued to ask him to clarify why you would accept a printable manufacturer coupon and not a printable competitor coupon.  He just continued to say “I can’t accept that, anyone could have copied it”.  After a few minutes of no explanation I finally said that I would need to return some of the items I had purchased (the entire order had already been scanned when the incident occurred) and he said that was fine, just to let him know what I wanted returned. 

Without any prompting from me, he took several bags out of my cart and took them over to a different register. I went through the bags that were still in my cart and pulled out everything I wanted returned.  He picked up those items and took them to the other register as well.  He began to scan the items in the bags (that he had removed from my cart) to return them and I told him I didn’t want those items returned and that’s when he very shortly (and loudly) said to me “I’m not a mind reader!”  Startled, I said “Excuse me?! I didn’t take those items out of my cart, you did.” He then continued by saying “I’m only talking to you the way you’re talking to me.”  At that point I just stopped talking.  I pulled out a pen and pad of paper and wrote down his name. Then he volunteered his manager and assistant manager’s names for me to write down as well.  I waited for him to finish returning the items, I paid him and I left.  

As I was getting into my car to unload the items another car drove up alongside mine.  A woman rolled down her window and told me she had seen everything that happened and she couldn’t believe an employee was treating a customer that way. She also mentioned she might say something to the manager the next time she was in the store. I was visibly shaken and emotional then. I hate to admit this, (I will so you understand how upset I was) but I cried once I got into the parking lot.  (name withheld) actions affected not only me, but all those who witnessed the incident.  I have no idea what your policies are regarding reprimanding employees, but I feel action should be taken so (name withheld) is aware there is no gray area when it comes to being respectful of customers.  I don’t care that he didn’t take my coupon – I still would have shopped at your store as I do every other Saturday night around 9 pm – but I do care that I was treated in such a disrespectful manner.  

Thank you for the chance to explain what happened. Feel free to forward this on to his manager.  


Response to customer from Fry’s corporate office: “I really appreciate that you again took time to write regarding your very unfortunate incident. I am sorry about that because I am sure you would like to erase it from your mind.  You undoubtedly have been a customer of ours for some time, and I am thankful that you took the time to communicate what happened to you.  Our expectation of our employee’s service levels is exactly what you would expect, not what you saw on the night in question.

I spoke with our assistant manager this morning regarding your poor service experience and he was as upset as we all are at the treatment you received. He assured me the matter would be addressed.  So often incidents like this are never communicated to us and the result is we lose a customer forever rather than giving us the opportunity to restore your confidence in our organization.  I know this is only a small thing, but I would like to give you credit for the $10 you should have received at the store as well as an additional $15 for your trouble.  I can do this by adding it directly to your VIP card so you do not have to stop and talk to anyone else about this. The manager and assistant manager would like the opportunity to apologize in person but I will leave that up to you.

I did just leave a voice mail for you. I do not have your name in our database so if you want to send me your VIP card number or give me a call I can get this taken care of immediately.  Thank you again for taking the time to write and allowing us the opportunity to make this up to you. As you requested, I did include the store manager on this e-mail.  I did remove your personal information in case you did not want it shared. I look forward to talking to you soon.”

There are three things that salespeople and management can learn from this unfortunate customer service event:

  • Poor customer service is akin to the shot heard ‘round the world. 
  • The only reason businesses stay in business is due to their customers and don’t ever forget it!
  • If you are ever faced with a poor customer service situation, handle it in a manner similar to Fry’s Food Stores.  They did an excellent job in their response to a bad situation.

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Copyright: The Business Performance Group, Inc.
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