Customer service Management Marketing Small Business

What premier service do they reach for?

How do you keep your clients excited and/or interested in your company? This shouldn’t be any problem doing this for your highest-value clients as I expect you already have premier programs and services for them. I’m talking about your newest clients, as well as those who have been around a while but haven’t yet “made it big”. Have they seen a premier service or product waiting for them on the next rung of the ladder?

What convinced your newest clients to buy ProductX? How do their reasons vary from those who have used ProductX for a decade or more? These two types of businesses could be quite different. It’s likely they see your business and your offerings in two completely different light.

Why did your newest client buy your products and services? Right now, you would hope that means that you’re best of breed. The long-time client not only wants the product that supports their needs, but they also have to see a compelling reason that prevents them from changing to another provider. The pain of change is a substantial contributor to decisions not to move to another solution, but you’d probably prefer that the primary reason for not changing is that you are keeping up with (and preferably anticipating) their needs.

Both groups need to climb the ladder.

What’s on the next floor?

One thing that you rarely see from companies that have multiple levels of product and/or service offerings is guerrilla-style marketing of those options to people who don’t yet qualify for them, or don’t know of them. This creates a gap in your clients’ understanding of the maturity of your business and what offers to them. As an example, some hotel chains have concierge floors. These are typically available only to clients who have a long history of stays with that hotel chain.

If you haven’t yet developed an allegiance to a hotel chain, or don’t see much difference between them, you’re likely to pick the cheapest one that fits your level of comfort. That isn’t what the chain wants, yet they seldom do anything to inspire allegiance, much less aspiration to the next level.

Have you ever toured the concierge level facilities of a hotel prior to earning access to them? Have you seen the differences between a regular and concierge level rooms? If not, what motivates you to choose that chain consistently and move up to a frequent lodging level that has access to those floors?

While a hotel couldn’t do this every night, on nights when room capacity is lower, the hotel’s systems could automatically identify a handful of travelers for a free upgrade to a concierge level. They should be people whose stay history indicates they’ll be good candidates for the company’s frequent lodging programs. If the systems can’t do that, local management can make the upgrades happen.

You’d be surprised how a “small favor” like this can turn a relationship up a notch and generate long term loyalty.

Peek behind the curtain

The same sort of idea works for an airline, or a company that has multiple service levels. I was recently on a sparsely seated flight to Minneapolis and was surprised to find eight empty first class seats on the plane. These days, that’s very unusual.

A smart automated system should have identified fliers in economy who are close to reaching the next frequent flier level and upgraded them to a higher level seat moments prior to boarding. These systems might choose a passenger whose originating airport is a United hub, presuming that a percentage of those passengers might be ripe for change.

Similarly, if your company staffs premier service levels such as extended weekday or weekend hours, you may have people in place who can service a one-time upgrade. When someone asks for help outside their allotted service window, they’d normally expect to wait until the next business day. Instead, you could occasionally deliver service right then – even if they aren’t paying for extended service.

Be sure to explain what you’re doing and offer this to a good candidate for your premier services. A follow up with their management to explain why you provided a taste of up-level service might be the conversation that moves them up a tier.

Every business should seek ways to provide an ascension ladder for their clientele – and create the desire to climb it.

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First impressions: Driven by mastery

Most likely you’ve heard the saying “A poor artisan blames their tools.

Despite the ROI of blame being zero (at best), this situation goes well beyond blame.

When you blame the tool, at least two situations can pop up:

  • Your current tools don’t produce the kind of benefits / outcome / work you need (even if they used to), and that suggests you need to choose another tool that will do the work.
  • Your comfort level with the existing tool may exceed your need (or desire) to select a better one, even though the better tool has substantial benefits to your business. A frequent obstacle is the inertia created by the anticipated learning curve of a new tool. Even the perception of that curve can prevent a tool switch capable of producing massive benefits.

However, there’s far more to mastery than your expertise with the tools used to create the services and products you deliver.

Beyond mastery of production

This experience includes the tools used to communicate with your client community, such as your accounting system, email list management (such as, webinar software, phone systems and redundancy management such as backup systems.

Low tech systems should also be a part of these discussions, as they’re as important as the others. Examples of low tech systems include office / shop / restroom cleaning, plumbing as well as trash and scrap disposal. Hazardous materials management (such as benzene containment) will also play a part in the equation for many service and manufacturing businesses.

Even if none of these systems touch the service or product your clients receive, they do form the foundation of your clients’ experience. How they interact with each other, as well as how they interact with your clientele, is critical to the first impression you make, much less the day to day experience you create.

Master your communications tools

Communications tools are a common stumbling point in this way. Consider the last few webinars or conference calls you’ve attended.

How many times have the organizers struggled with the webinar or phone software or hardware? Did it reach the point where it was a distraction that kept participants from accomplishing the meeting’s goals? Did it prevent effective communication in the meeting?

The frustration factor of these things wears on participants, particularly if they experience it repeatedly. The more organizers struggle with the technologies, the worse it gets.

A common factor in less-than-ideal group settings like webinars, call-in shows and conference calls is a lack of rehearsal by the presenters. When presenters read from a script or bullets they’ve never rehearsed, the mechanical / monotonous nature of reading text that the reader has not rehearsed reduces attendee comprehension.  If interaction is expected between presenters, an unrehearsed presentation’s conversation isn’t conversational, it’s mechanical.

Good speakers can ad-lib from bullets or scripted text, but if you haven’t practiced enough to make the ad-lib feel natural, it won’t be sound nearly as smooth as you’d like.

When a conversation loses this natural touch and goes mechanical, it leads listeners down the road to inattention and boredom.

Bark, meow, disconnect

When speakers confuse the mute button with the disconnect button on their phone, it produces a jarring experience. In some webinar software, it’s a challenge for the organizer to return to the call, and in some cases, the conference is terminated when the organizer disconnects. Are you ready to lose 1000 listeners because you clicked or touched the wrong button?

Less serious flubs like echo, feedback, cell phone rings and animal noises in the background not only distract the listener, but they speak to your attention to detail – prompting listeners to wonder where else your lack of attention will manifest itself.

Is it streamlined?

First impressions are rooted in streamlined interactions, a lack of jarring experiences and consistently well-met expectations.

How you achieve these things is not driven solely by product and service quality. Consistency in delivery, interaction, returns, accounting, conference calls, billing, refunds, follow ups and a litany of other minutiae (like spelling minutiae properly) contribute to the overall experience your clientele has, remembers and expects.

When great first impressions become a streamlined, consistent experience, it transforms referrals from “We use so-and-so” to “You’re totally crazy if you don’t use so-and-so. Don’t use anyone else!”

Isn’t that what you want?

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Stop worrying about your commissions

Recently I was doing a little business with a large Microsoft distributor – a sale that required a license agreement.

Initially, the deal couldn’t be finalized because I use a PO Box for my business address. Trouble is, they “don’t allow” license agreements with a business that uses a PO Box.

Irony: That I can easily send money directly from my bank to the Caymans (or pretty much anywhere) from my iPhone, but heaven forbid that I receive paper business mail to a PO Box housed in a United States government building. But I digress.

When I provided a street address (one that cannot receive USPS mail – which the distributor/manufacturer will likely attempt to use for mail if history repeats), the salesperson’s autoresponder email came back to say he would be out for the next four days. It’s always nice to know when my rep is not going to be around and I appreciate the effort to inform, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the fulfillment of my order. We’ll get back to that.

Follow up

My reply included the requested info and a comment about PO Box use by rural businesses. The response? An automated order fulfillment email from the manufacturer. I received nothing from the distributor who fulfilled the sale or the salesperson. Salespeople – This is a missed opportunity to follow up and learn more about your new customer. It is not me encouraging you to deliver a prefab sales pitch.

The PO Box thing annoys both because my business uses one and because it’s patently stupid to decline to accept them. A fair number of businesses that I’ve interacted with over the years have claimed they can’t accept a PO Box as my company’s official business address.

Their party line is “companies who use a PO Box are more likely to commit fraud and PO Boxes are not secure“.

When I give them my “suite number” at the local UPS Store as my physical business address, I can see how that completely eliminates the possibility of fraud. As for “not secure”, given that a PO Box is in a Federal building under multiple locks and keys, it’s probably less secure than a street-side box that you can drive up to and whack with a ball bat.

Sarcasm aside, this isn’t about PO Boxes. They’re simply a good example of an excuse.

Excuse vs. Reason – What’s the difference?

The words uttered by a salesperson that most frustrate a customer tend to be excuses rather than reasons.

“Your salesperson is out of town till Tuesday” may be true, but it’s an excuse because that absence has nothing to do with order fulfillment/delivery. Fulfillment is a process owned by the business (not the salesperson) and is completed for the customer’s benefit, not the salesperson’s.

Can the salesperson pay attention/follow up to make sure nothing goes wrong? If they’re smart, yes. Should the process be dependent on the salesperson not being out of town? No way.

Some might say that “It’s his order, his relationship, he has to personally handle anything related to the sale in order to earn his commission.”

They’re wrong because they’re worried about the wrong thing. While you may not get the commission from Mary’s sale by helping her client when they call or email, the commission from her sale helps your employer as much as your sales do. Not helping that customer doesn’t hurt Mary, it hurts your employer.

Stop worrying about ownership and commission. Notice that I didn’t say stop worrying about commissions (plural) – I mean stop worrying about each individual one as if they are some combination of birthright and sovereignty.

Worry about the right thing

So what should you worry about? Helping your customers eliminate their worries. Make their lives easier.

Do so and you’ll have more and better customers who stick around. You’ll get more referrals. You might end up training/managing a group and get a commission from their sales. Then you get to focus on training them to take better care of the customer.

Never forget that the reason to make the sale is to get/keep a customer. Not the reverse.

Get customers and ignore them? No. Get, cultivate, care for and keep them.

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Taking Care

One of the lessons my dad impressed on me when I was old enough to begin to “get it” (or so I thought) was “Be a good listener.”

Naturally, the meaning of that phrase changed for me over the years.

  • As a teenager, it had a rather obvious meaning, “Pay attention and you might learn something.”
  • As a college student, the meaning changed a bit, but the fundamentals were the same.
  • As a newly married guy and later as a dad, I fine-tuned it a bit for the roles I found myself in.

Ultimately, it was about listening before speaking or acting. A handy business lesson if there ever was one.

At work, it became far more complex as it became about listening…really listening to customers (including other people’s customers) about the detective work necessary to create and retain customer loyalty, and sometimes, about figuring out what wasn’t being said while the words still flowed.

Sometimes the most important words from a customer are the ones they fail to say.

Despite the complexity that lesson has taken on at times, the core message is still the important one – a message of listening to learn, one of the most valuable lessons my father taught me.

What level of care do you deliver?

My current context for the most personal level of service was set by Hospice of Cumberland County (Tenn.), but the who and what isn’t really the context I’m trying to get at. The level itself is what I want you to arrive at, regardless of what you do.

Consider the level of care that you’d give to a sick family member. It’s likely to always exceed that given during the course of business, but it’s a standard of care that you can consider when designing different levels of service in your business.

A level of care we’re speaking of is very personal. It isn’t suited for just any business and perhaps not for just any customer, but that isn’t my decision to make about your business. Fact is, it might be perfect for a subset of your customers…or perhaps all of them.

As personal as the end of life care you’d provide for a family member? Isn’t that a bit much? Sure it is.

I suggest that because it brings a level of personal touch to what you deliver that you might not ever have considered. While you still might not deliver something that’s of the same class as end of life care for a family member, it might just provoke a thought that transforms your high end business. That which transforms your high end business quite often transforms the rest of it as well.

What level of care have you failed to offer to your clients? Beyond levels of care, what care itself are you failing to deliver to your clientele?

Doing it right

The other lesson I remember most is “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” The unspoken second part of that is “That doesn’t mean that you should do less.”

You might wonder if there is a conflict there, but I don’t believe so. Doing the job the best you can, each time, doesn’t mean perfect. It just means best for you given the skills you possess at that time *and* with a commitment to continuous improvement.

Not starting a project (or a piece of work) because the outcome can’t be perfect is far worse than finishing it with your best, yet imperfect effort. What have you not started because you felt you couldn’t deliver perfect?

Oh and the third part…focus. Doing things right requires focus on those things. Doing 100 things poorly serves no one well, least of all you. What efforts are you making to get and stay focused? To deflect, destroy or defer distractions?

The undercurrent

Over the last seven weeks, I had many opportunities to learn while caring for my dad. Whether from him, my mom or their friends, the lessons were almost always about taking care.

Are you truly taking care of your clientele? Is there a level of care that you’ve neglected, ignored or simply failed to design?

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The Difference

30th St. Station
Creative Commons License photo credit: A. Strakey

Ever considered “The Difference” businesses sometimes create between different types of customers in the same market?

It’s the difference between “them” and “the other them”.

Let me back up a bit and set a little context.

On numerous occasions, I’ve urged you to add premium services to your product and services mix.

One reason for doing this is that these premium services add higher profit margin services and attract more loyal customers. That doesn’t mean they are better people than the entry-level spenders. They’re higher loyalty customers because when price is a primary decision point for buyers, it’s natural (and proven) that loyalty to the vendor suffers.

That’s also the hopefully obvious reason why I nag you not to compete solely/primarily on price. No one ever sent their kids to college, bought a boat or went on a dream vacation using the profits made competing with WalMart on price.

Another reason I’ve suggested this is that these “higher rung” products and services provide a bigger profit margin per transaction, making it easier to afford to serve entry-level and/or more price-sensitive customers whose profit-per-transaction is smaller.

SIDEBAR: This is yet another reason to know your numbers for each product, each service and each customer type/tier that you serve. If you want to hire someone new, you can figure out how many “whatevers” you need to sell (or how many upsells you need) in order to fund that position.

Mister Flip Flop?

Now wait a minute. I just spent all that time talking about higher loyalty customers and bigger profit margins and then I justify it by talking about it making it easier to afford to do business with entry-level customers? Isn’t that a bit of a flip-flop?

Not really.

As you know, some entry-level customers will eventually climb your product/service ladder and transform themselves (perhaps with a little help from you) into the high-value, frequent buyer customers that I repeatedly suggest you court. Get enough of them and they will help your business hit its break-even point a bit earlier each month.

You should know (back to that sidebar) how many of these entry-level customers become a premium customer. That lets you predict future business more accurately. I suspect it’s obvious where that gets you.

One key to growing the premium customer part of your business is doing an ever-improving job of identifying what’s different about the customers who make that step up from entry-level. Work hard to identify these differences so that you can offer those customers timely opportunities to become premium customers.

Finally, after all that, we’re back to a difference, but not “The Difference”. You should be able to list these differences on command if I called you at 2:37am.

If you can’t, you need to get to know them a LOT better.

Fast, Cheap or Good

The most often seen characteristic in my recent observation of “The Difference” is about time. Premium customers tend to buy products that arrive on their schedule and use services that let them dictate the when. This usually comes at a premium price.

For example, when traveling from San Francisco to NYC, you can fly, take a bus or a train. If you fly, there’s a chance you’ll be late, but you’re more likely to be late on the train or bus. The premium/entry line in U.S. air travel has been smudged to the extent that it often feels a bit like third world bus travel.

“The Difference” also appears in how customers are treated when products/services aren’t delivered in the time promised. It reminds me of the old programmer’s joke: “Fast, Cheap, Good – Choose any two.”

Entry level services tend to dictate the when to the customer, and if the when is late or otherwise fails to at least meet common expectations, it’s likely that the vendor will apologize, yet do little or nothing to improve and move on to repeat the cycle. To quote a friend in Spokane, “And we wonder why they leave.”

Customers treated in this way get frustrated by the late, uncaring appearance of the services they use, but the price often has them.

Where “The Difference” again crops up is how these vendors treat those folks: Like a “them”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen entry-level customers treated horribly.

It’s a mistake that can cost you an incredible amount of sales, both short and long-term.

Shrink The Difference

Where you can intervene is simple: Stop treating everyone “in coach” (so to speak) as if they are at worst, criminals, and at best, a bother to you.

Result: You’ll move more to “First Class” and see the results in your bottom line.

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Notify, notify, notify

One of the reasons that smart phones are so popular is that they provide a much better means of getting notified about any number of events, appointments and so on.

Your customers’ desire – if not need – to be notified is a critical aspect of your customer service planning.

In fact, these communications can be an essential difference between lousy or non-existent customer service, and good or even great customer service.

Working in the dark

For example, earlier this week I ordered some large format printing from a local vendor.

I spoke with them on the phone and because their website allows uploading documents,  I was able to upload the zipped graphics rather than make a 40 minute round trip drive to deliver the files and return to my office.

The vendor’s website said the file was accepted. About 30 minutes later, I hadn’t heard anything from the vendor, so I called them.

They hadn’t received the file and said that it must be “stuck” on the franchise system’s server and that they would surely find it.

At this point, they had my name and number and knew I wanted to get some work done. 3-4 years ago, I would have expected to babysit the job from start to finish because any business could stay open.

Despite having a confirmation from the web server, the file never appeared on their system… or they never looked for it.

Regardless, failure #1 was not following up with me to confirm that they had found it, or that they hadn’t and needed me to re-send it.

Tick, tick, tick

Two days go by. The promised completion date and time arrives without a message, so the natural thing for me to figure is that the job is complete.

45 minutes before closing time on the promised completion date, I call them. No answer.

Historically, they’re on the phone a good bit, so I don’t think much of it. I hop in the car and continue to call every few minutes during the 20 minute drive.

I arrive 10 minutes before the closing time listed on their website – the same closing time painted on the office door.

They’re closed up tight. With that 20 minutes wasted, I drive 20 more minutes home, having wasted 40 minutes and accomplished nothing.

I call and leave a message asking what happened, mostly resisting the urge to vent and ask them to call me to make sure my job is done and let me know what times they’ll be open the next day so I can pick up the job materials.


By mid-morning of the next day I’ve heard nothing.

I call. They know nothing about the job or the upload. Turns out some health issues caused early closure the day before, so I can’t really be upset about that…BUT here’s that notify thing.

They could have left a note on the door about the early closure.

They could have left a comment on their phone system about the early closing.

They didn’t.


Stepping up

At this point, the notification failures have added up, but the person in charge steps up a notch.

I get the file to them using another means and we make arrangements for pickup. One of their guys is coming to my area later in the day, so we arrange to meet. He will call when he’s close.

He calls, we meet, I get my stuff. All good. Today’s interaction has gone much better because the communication and notification was active and frequent.

What should happen

A few weeks ago, I uploaded a job to Staples’ web print center, which routes print jobs to a store about 20 minutes away.

I received a confirmation email shortly after the upload.

I received another email telling me the job was complete.

That’s how it works every time. And that software is available to any print shop. It isn’t something special that Staples developed.


Remember, customer service is marketing.

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What to do if you have too many customers

It must be all those trees we have. They’re so full of customers that businesses just don’t need any more.

As you know, I strongly encourage folks to buy local.

The flip side of that is that locals have to EARN the business. Not just because you’re here, but because you kick butt at what you do.


I called a couple of stores about getting a sound bar for my son’s Jeep as a gift to acknowledge a major accomplishment he recently completed.

One said: “We don’t have them but we have the speakers for them.”

The Department of Obviousness requires that I inform you that the holes in these sound bars are designed to fit common speaker sizes so that retailers don’t have to stock custom speakers.

After checking the store, another said: “I don’t think we can get anything like that.”

No one said “We don’t carry that, but I can get it here tomorrow and install it for you. When would you like to bring the Jeep in?”

The last answer is what keeps people from buying car audio gear on the internet.

The point

While I’m only talking about a $200 purchase plus installation, the big picture was missed.

The size of this purchase isn’t the point.

What you *must* get across to your staff (no matter what you do) is that the real long-term reason to make a sale is to *get a new customer*. â?¨After that, it’s their challenge to keep us as customers.

I suspect car audio industry research tallies the average annual spending of customers. If that figure is only $100, at one new customer per week, you’d add an average of $5200 to your gross sales per year.

Your market is no different.

Has dealing with your store become so unremarkable that customers would rather pay for shipping and wait a few days?

Walking to Missoula

I was in a cloth store recently, buying some material so a local business owner could make some custom neckerchiefs for my Scouts.

They had less material than I needed. They offered to order more, advising me that it could take 3 to 6 weeks.

They didn’t mention their corporate-run online store. I checked it myself, finding an in-stock quantity of only three yards. That wasn’t how much the local store had, it indicated (incorrectly, I suspect) the corporate’s in-stock quantity.

Meanwhile, the Missoula store had plenty. I know this because the local store is advanced enough to be able to check this from their handheld terminals (nice!). When I asked them about getting it from Missoula, they said it would take “about 3 weeks”.

I can *walk* to and from Missoula in three weeks.

Trucking in the wrong direction

Recently I was outside of Missoula at a truck stop and bought a small toolkit for a task that had me sidelined on the road. As the cashier finished ringing it up, I realized I’d bought the wrong thing. Yes, my fault.

While standing at the counter, before the salesperson walked away, before picking the item up from the counter, while putting my wallet back in my pocket, I asked to return it, unopened.

Without a second’s delay, they said “We have a strict corporate return policy. No returns.” â?¨Even if the unopened item has never left the store, much less the cash register.

It’s early on Saturday evening and there is no weekend on-premises manager. She won’t be back until Monday and no one else is allowed to take responsibility.

Stunningly “customer-friendly”.

Earl Nightingale once said something like “To be successful, observe what the majority in your market are doing, then do the opposite”.

These are good examples of his advice.

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Stunningly reasonable, efficient, and customer-oriented service

Sunrise Paddling on the North Canadian River
Creative Commons License photo credit: FreeWine

In four minutes. On a Sunday morning.

Something like that can be hard to find these days, but that’s exactly what Chris Matyszczy found when he contacted Amazon recently.

Sunday morning aside, is your staff providing 9am Monday morning service all week long?

Even at 4:45pm on a Friday?

Think about this – where will he buy his next book, or perhaps, the majority of books in the future?

Now you have a reason to provide service like this, if you didn’t already. If you need motivation for providing this kind of service (you shouldn’t, if you think about it): ask yourself this question…

Why should they buy from you instead of everyone else who sells what you do?

If you own the local bookstore in Chris’ town, what do you have to do to keep him from going to Amazon, Books a Million, Borders, Barnes and Noble, Powells and any of their online counterparts?

That’s a question on the minds of customers who haven’t been given a reason to want to spend their $ in only one place.

At least not yet.

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What is reasonable?

Good question.

The answer? Depends on who answers the question.

Slide over to Scott McKain’s blog for one company’s answer.

Hey, you’re back.

To give AT&T a little bit of credit, you have to admit that trying to predict what was going to happen (and plan infrastructure) for the iPhone release was just about impossible. Especially, as Andrew G says, if you weren’t expecting the runaway freak hit that the phone has become (and continues down that path. He has a point.

Time will tell what seems reasonable in urban areas affected by this issue. Regardless of what’s reasonable, there are a lot of folks out there in these areas that are pretty grumpy about the service they’re getting.

What’s this got to do with you?

What do your customers think is reasonable of your business’ behavior? Maybe you should ask (you should know, but asking beats guessing).

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Little things sell big things

Trailer, courtesy of Bill Ward
Trailer, courtesy of Bill Ward

Earlier this week, we talked about how a little thing like the delivery of a sippy cup at the end of a long, hot weekend could change an entire restaurant experience.

Two recent adventures further illustrate how little things could make a difference.

Unfortunately, they involve those gasoline-powered devices / vehicles that so love to toy with me.

Les to the rescue

First, there’s the youngest son’s car which needed tires rather badly. So badly that they were on my short list of stuff to deal with when I return from out of town. Of course, one of them decides to fail *while* I’m out of town.

Because I’m at Scout camp, there’s no way to catch me (no cell, no internet) and of course, my wife was unavailable at the time the tire failed as well.

So there is my 17 year old needing tires, without enough cash in his account to pay for them, temporarily with no access to mom and dad, and (of course), no credit card.

For whatever reason, Les Schwab Tires put tires on it, wrote up a bill and sent him on his way – and he was on time to work.

Maybe that would happen in a big city, maybe it wouldn’t, but the bottom line is that it happened and I appreciated it. Stuff like that is why I buy tires at Les Schwab – they do stuff that they don’t *have* to do.

Tow headed boy

This morning, I wake up after at least 3 cups of coffee (ahem, yes that it more than it usually takes) and realize that another vehicular issue needs to be dealt with.

My trailer light wiring got ripped out from under my Suburban on a leisurely off-road excursion a while back. Also on the “round tuit” list, they remained dysfunctional until this morning when I realize that I need working lights.

See, I have to tow the Montana Federation of Swimming’s Western division timing/scoring trailer back from Shelby MT in preparation for our Divisional swim meet here next week.

It’s a pretty sizable trailer and driving back with no trailer lights on a prime tourist route is a really bad idea for lots of reasons.


So I go to a RV sales and repair place on the way back from town and ask if they have the trailer light T-adapter that fits onto the lighting harness. Getting one of these means I just unhook the harness and plug the ends into the T-adapter and whammo, I’ve got lights.

I walk into the RV place and if we were in the South, you could’ve heard crickets. No one in sight. I look around and finally a few minutes later I find a guy walking out of the lunch room.

He proceeds to spend 20 minutes digging in a paper catalog to find a part number, but finds nothing and blames the guy who wrote the index.

Google is your friend

Meanwhile, there is a computer on the counter. I suppose I could have Googled trailer light adapter a little faster, but I thought I’d give the guy a break.

After all this, he gives me the catalog and starts opening a box of mail on the counter. I’m just a little stunned. I go back to the index, use the brand name that is on a similar adapter from the shelf (I brought it to the counter as an example of what I needed).

The brand name is indexed and one of the two entries lists the page where the exact item I need is shown.

He looks up the item and tells me the price ($21) and asks if I want it. Of course I do, as I have 30 minutes invested in it already.

He says (I suggest you sit down)…“We don’t stock these items, do you want me to order it?”

So 30 minutes later, I still don’t have wiring harness and he is just now sharing with me that these items aren’t stocked.

He says the one I found on the counter was mis-packaged and apparently came from the repair department as an ordering mistake. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out why we spent 30 minutes searching for something that they don’t even stock, despite my telling him I needed it today.

NAPA, take me away

Empty handed, I leave the RV place and head for Columbia Falls. I slide into NAPA and start looking around and less than 30 seconds have gone by when someone approaches me and asks if they can help me find something.

I tell him what I need and they go to the computer (wooo, aint that cool?) and find it.

He digs around for the wiring adapter in the back, then looks on the shelf and finds it. Note that this is different than what a typical store staffer elsewhere might have done. The expectation is that they will point toward the front of the store and say “They’re on aisle 8.”

Instead, in Nordstorm-like fashion, he took me there and found it.

All the time, he is smiling and friendly. The lady up front is also smiling and friendly.

Now to be fair, I should admit that I know the owners of this NAPA and they are more often than not (pretty much always) smiling and friendly. But these staffers don’t *know* that I know the owners. They don’t really know me from Andy Granatelli (I’m taller).

Yet I get service like that $19 purchase was the most important one I ever made. Oddly enough, it is – because you are only as good as your last transaction.

Get recommended

It’s unlikely that I will ever buy a monster RV and probably not even a camp trailer (that RV place sells everything from $10k trailers to $150k “Class A” RVs), but it is likely that sometime, somewhere, someone will ask me which RV place to go to or where to get auto parts or tires, and so on.

Which places do you think I’ll recommend?

Are your people doing what is necessary (or more) to motivate people to recommend your business? Psst: That’s just one form of marketing.