Recently, I have run into a bad stretch of customer service. Not as the provider of customer service, but as the recipient. Even though there should be no excuse for businesses giving bad service, there are reasons why it happens. Apathy, lack of training, inept leadership, etc. The list goes on. Feel free to add your own to my very short list. It’s a practical part of life that we are all humans and occasionally have subpar days. But when someone is in the business of taking care of customers, one must rise above the storms of life and overcome personal challenges to make their customers a priority.
In the past month, I have visited several prominent business establishments and received service that I felt was less than satisfactory. I don’t want to mention any names, but their initials are M.C.D.O.N.A.L.D.S. and C.H.I.C.K.F.I.L.A. and C.O.S.T.C.O. I like these places very much. I do. For the most part, the local versions of these national brands do just enough to keep me coming back for more. I have copies of my receipts for the last 15 years to prove it. But in the interest of space and time, I will spare you my McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A stories and put my focus on Costco. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of Costco. Where else can you go with the intention of buying printer ink that is on sale and walking out with $250 worth of toilet paper, facial tissues, paper towels, napkins, cans of corned beef, gallons of lotion and other household accoutrements that will last your family of four for the next nine months?
One of the items at Costco that my family consumes is Carnation Evaporated Milk. The problem is that it does not have a regular or permanent shelf home at my local Costco. You would think that the most logical place to keep this item would be where they have all of the other non-perishable milk products. But no, that is not the case. Carnation Evaporated Milk moves around from aisle to aisle for no apparent reason. One week it’s with the rice products. Another week it’s with the pasta sauces. Just yesterday I was at Costco and couldn’t find Carnation Evaporated Milk because it has no permanent home. I was inclined to go back to the last aisle where I found it during a previous visit. Of course, it wasn’t there. I proceed to dial the store on my mobile device. I get the automatic, computer-generated call router, and I press zero to get connected to a live person that works in the store where I am shopping. I ask them the burning question that I must have the answer to: “What aisle are you hiding the Carnation Evaporated Milk?” The friendly Costco employee responds, “I don’t know, but I think it should be where we keep the other non-perishable milk products.” Um, yeah…right. I flag down an employee on the floor and ask for his assistance in locating the Carnation Evaporated Milk. He knew where it was and personally walked me to the aisle where they were hiding this product. I even got him to open up and confess to me that Carnation Evaporated Milk has no regular home and can be in any aisle and on any shelf at any given time. He said, “We can never find a good place for it so we just shove it wherever we can find an open space.” Now that is enlightening. It makes perfect sense to “shove it wherever they can find space” (sarcasm). I told him that I was going to contact Costco’s corporate headquarters and explain my dismay about Carnation Evaporated Milk not having a regular home. It’s so infuriating that customers have to go on an excursion through the entire warehouse in search of one item. He actually implored me to follow through on my threat to contact corporate. “Please do. We’re actually tired of having to show customers where we last put this item,” said the Costco employee.
If these national brands with household names have customer service issues, how much more for owners of dry cleaning establishments? The big names like McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, and Costco are huge corporations. I can only imagine the amounts of money they spend on market research, consultants, customer service training, studies on product placement and a bunch of other stuff that frankly is above my pay grade and security clearance. Most independently owned dry cleaning establishments don’t have the resources to justify such discretionary expenditures.
This experience at Costco should remind us how important it is to take care of our customers. And we should most certainly make it easy and pleasurable for them to do business with us. Since I am not a conspiracy theorist, I have the acumen to discern that Costco is not intentionally trying to hide the Carnation Evaporated Milk from me. However, that does not alleviate my frustration about not being able to find it. What do we do in our dry cleaning businesses that might frustrate our customers? Take an honest self-inventory and examination. If you find something, I think it’s safe to say that you’re not intentionally trying to anger or frustrate your customers. Whatever it may be, you should fix it. A customer service expert recently reminded me that if a customer is happy with our company, product or service, we would be lucky if they told two people about it. But if they were upset, angry or dissatisfied, they would tell at least twenty people. Customer acquisition is important. I understand that. But don’t neglect customer retention. That’s paramount and critical as well. We want our valued customers to keep coming back to patronize our dry cleaning business. If they don’t, our profits will evaporate.