Two studies in customer service.

For me, the customer service experience can be the most powerful force in deciding where I will spend my money. Done right, it builds my loyalty. Done wrong, it earns my wrath and will make me work hard to avoid the business. For this post I present two case studies from my own personal experience.

The WRONG way – Westland Camping Center. As followers of my blog know, I became an owner of a used pop-up camper in 2011. Since then my wife and I have had 15 trips in the camper. Being ten years old when we purchased it, we have had a few minor maintenance issues, and we have done winter storing each of those years. Early on I found Westland Camping Center. It is located very close to my home, so convenience is a premium. In the past two years, including the storage fees, winterization, and a few maintenance issues, I have spent between $1,000 and $1,500 with them. But, it is very likely I will never spend another dime there.

When I brought the camper in last Fall, I had noticed that my tap water was a bit brown. The maintenance manager diagnosed that I had been improperly emptying my tank. He gave me quick instructions on what to do in the spring, then winterized and stored my camper.

A few weeks back I picked up the camper, with the fresh-water tank cleaning on my mind. I got it home and crawled under and noticed that the plug was missing on the tank. Because I have researched this, I know that this plastic plug retails for about $4.

I immediately called and ended up on the phone with the owner of Westland Camping Center. I explained to him that I had picked up my camper and noticed that this plug was missing. His immediate, and vehement response was “We are not responsible for anything that happens to your camper while it is here in storage”. He went on to question whether I had even turned in the camper with the plug present. I explained my questions from the Fall, and that I technically didn’t even know where that plug was until after it was at his place, and asked what he would do. His answer (which instantaneously took me from zero to pissed off) was “Well, that’s what people have insurance for on their camper.”

Really!?

That was the best he could do? Did he really want me to believe that people who lose the $4 plug on their fresh water tank while their camper is in storage file INSURANCE CLAIMS?

I am certain at this point that I was completely incoherent with anger, and not really making much sense. As it turns out, the next day his service manager called to tell me he had a plug at the counter waiting for me.

But here is the thing. This business owner lost a loyal customer over an argument about a $4 plug on my fresh water tank. Westland Camping sells brand new RVs and campers, some of which cost tens of thousands of dollars. My now ten year old camper will not last forever, and someday I will need to replace it. But, I can guarantee that there will be snowball fights in the nether world before I will spend my money there.

The right answer from him was something along the lines of “I can’t imagine how that could have happened here, but you are a loyal customer, and we will do right by you. Stop by and pick one up on me.”

Contrast that with this….

The RIGHT way – Biggby Coffee in Dearborn. For my readers who do not live in Michigan, Biggby is a Michigan-based coffee chain. They serve all the same kinds of coffee as Starbucks and others. I find their coffee to be quite tasty, and affordable, which is why I started going there every morning.

What keeps me coming back to this particular Biggby is the customer service experience I get whenever I walk through the door. I am an early starter at work, so I am usually there by 6:15am, sometimes I am there when they open their doors at 5:30. They are always smiling, fun and courteous. Somewhere along the line they got to know my name, and many of the baristas greet me with a friendly “Good morning Bob”, whenever I am there. They will ask casual questions about what’s coming up in my day or on my weekend. And sometimes, on Monday, they will ask how the weekend was, citing what they learned on Friday.

The fact is that I pass several Biggby shops on my way to work. In fact, I drive about 2 miles out of my way to go  to this particular Biggby. They are that friendly, that nice, and that much fun. And it isn’t just me. Last week one of the baristas had her last day before moving to the West Coast. In the few minutes that I was there, I saw two other customers come in, excited to wish her well. All were greeted by name, one even got a hug. (For those of you who are close by, the Biggby where I go is at 22445 Michigan Avenue in Dearborn.)

Biggby isn’t the cheapest coffee – I could save a lot brewing my own in the morning, or even stopping at a gas station. They may not be the highest quality coffee, I will leave that debate to people whose tongue is more refined than mine. But, what they are, is friendly! They get the highest grade possible for their customer service.

Ironically, I discovered this Biggby because I had changed buildings at work, and no longer go past the 7-11 that I went to daily for several years. The ironic part is that I went to that particular 7-11 precisely for their customer service as well. I will write about them in another, future post.

For me, the customer experience is a key driver for where I will spend my money. I prefer companies that excel in making my experience positive, and I am willing to even pay a premium for it. In the future, I will continue going to the Biggby on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, and I will be avoiding any business with Westland Camping Center.

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4 Responses to Two studies in customer service.

  1. Mike Kline says:

    I’m with you, Bob. As consumers, our power lies in our ability to choose to whom we give our business. If you treat me in a manner similar to how Westland Camping treated you, you lose my business. Furthermore, I will probably go out of my way to warn my friends, too. On the good side of customer service, I also have a coffee example. When I lived in Livonia, I endured terrible coffee for several years, because, at the gas station where I purchased it, I was greeted by my name, and with a smile. In this busy world, sometimes that is a very valuable commodity.

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  2. conhippy says:

    I believe that Service is the Product, so much so I am renaming one of my blogs, and designing a consultancy around it. Experiences like these are why. The difference between making it right and blowing it big time are usually one or two easy to complete steps. Like the $4 plug. “Sorry sir, here’s a new plug.” probably would have done it.
    I recently went into a Boston Market and asked about donations for a small school for exceptional education. I approached the counter, and the worker asked, “Need somethin’?” Yeah……

    Then as I explained myself to the manager, she interrupted me and handed me a pamphlet. I wonder what would happen if I were actually walking in hat-in-hand, starving and homeless?! Meanwhile a local food store just asked me for a form letter and our 503(c) info and handed me a gift card, with a smile.

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  3. Pingback: Two studies in customer service. | Service is The Product (formerly Kunz Copy and Content)

  4. Mary Sample says:

    agree, as someone who has worked in customer service for years, i know how far a smile and a few kind words go to keep happy customers coming back, so much so that even after our pharmacy closed, many of the customers greeted me with hugs and like conversation afterward, or in random times when our paths crossed, market, church, etc. There are places that will never get my repeat business because of the way I’ve been treated in their establishments. It’s about treating people the way we want to be treated, and maybe making someones day a little brighter if even for a few minutes. Great post

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