Everyone knows the theory: the customer may not always be right but smart business owners want customers to be happy if that can be achieved within reason. And smart business owners want their employees to get that too, and act on it, consistently.

That said, I sometimes think that counter staff in some of the shops in our local mall think customers are people to be ‘kept in their place’. Which makes me wonder about what training and supervision they are getting.

Today I went to the pharmacist to get a doctor’s prescription filled. While handing this over, I produced a couple of receipts from previous transactions there and said we had not been able to get the petrol discounts, advertised by the pharmacy as a benefit of doing business there, at the local service station. The people at the service station had said the receipts had a necessary section missing.

‘That doesn’t apply to prescription purchases’ the woman behind the counter declared in the tone of someone reproving a misbehaving, obstreperous child. Well, excuse me for asking you why I couldn’t get a benefit you advertise, I thought, but didn’t say. Then for good measure, as I was wandering off to wait for my prescription to be filled, she called after me – ‘and it’s only for purchases over $30!’. Never mind that if she had taken the trouble to check, she would have seen that the purchases were both well over that limit.

So of course by the time I came back to collect my tablets I was feeling really good about doing business in this pharmacy. Not really. But being a bit obstinate about these customer service issues, as regular readers of this blog would know, I looked around for the sign advertising the petrol discounts. When I found it, I saw that it said nothing about being unavailable for purchases on prescription items.

I was being served by a different person now, a young man I hadn’t seen before, perhaps still at school as it’s currently school holiday time. I said, you know, it would be really good to add something to that sign to the effect that prescription purchases don’t qualify and mentioned by way of explanation that the local service station had refused to provide the discount etc etc. ‘Oh really?’ he said with less than total focus or any evidence of real concern – not that I blame him, he’s obviously new to customer service.

Will I let this go? I wondered. No, in for a penny in for a pound. When he came back from the cash register with my credit card and docket to sign, I said ‘Just in the interest of customer service, were you thinking of passing on my comment about the sign to anyone?’ and to do him justice he said ‘Of course’ – with less than transparent honesty but commendable courtesy.

So what’s going on here, I wondered as I drove away. Lack of courtesy, defensiveness, ‘get the customer’ on the part of the first person who ‘served’ me. Standard, unfocused behaviour by the second, but redeemed by his quickly picking up on the idea that it would be good to at least *say* he was going to pass on my comment.

But no evidence of a system, or of training, or of a company policy about how to deal with customers who air a concern or grievance.

For an employer or trainer or coach wanting a good link to follow up on how to create a better understanding by employees about customer satisfaction (and customer dis-satisfaction!), there is a short and excellent post, employees+attitudes, on Jim Wylde’s Ideascape blog and a link there to a brief, informative report of a study by  Northwestern University, Linking Organizational Characteristics to Employee Attitudes and Behavior – A Look at the Downstream Effects on Market Response & Financial Performance, which includes the finding that there is a ‘direct link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction, and between customer satisfaction and improved financial performance.’

Common sense no doubt, but that sort of finding suggests that employers who fail to ensure their staff are trained to ‘keep the customer (satisfied)’ and who don’t make it clear that ‘get the customer’ is *not* a good game can expect to see the results in a diminished bottom line. We’re not just talking feelgood employment practices but *serious* stuff about potential decline in income.



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