Contrasts in customer service show value of concept

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 9, 2006

Some things in life are so contrastingly different that there is no mistaking one for the other.

The list goes on and on: Day and night. White or black. Rural life versus city life. Republican or Democrat. (OK, maybe there isn’t too much a difference in that last one any more but you see what I mean.)

Perhaps the one area that truly stands out is the difference between good customer service and poor customer.

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The application of these concepts are just as identifiable as night and day. Take a minute or two while you are out dealing with the public and you will quickly be able to spot both sides of this coin.

Great customer service: The smiling receptionist that offers all the information you require to solve your problem while at the business.

Poor customer service: The receptionist who is too busy talking to her friend or significant other about where they are going to dinner to assist you, the customer.

Great customer service: The sales clerk who asks if you need any help, then gives you the space needed to make a decision.

Poor customer service: The sales employee who hovers over you like a shadow, even making it difficult to navigate through the merchandise without knocking them down.

Good customer service: The restaurant waitress that remembers to stop by every few minutes and understands that when someone says they are ready for the bill that means sometime in the near future.

Poor customer service: The waiter or waitress that brings you the bill and disappears to cigarette-smoking land or somewhere else for 20 minutes, failing to realize that you still actually need to pay for the meal.

But perhaps the most interesting place to see the contrasts between good and poor customer service is an airport.

Airline employees must be separated upon their hire. Some go to the “great service school” while others are on the “hateful, can’t communicate plan.”

Admittedly, travelers are often not in the best of moods. Long security lines, frequent delays and cramped airplanes and terminals often make airline passengers a little more difficult to deal with.

Still, that doesn’t give employees a license to be rude, dismissive and downright unhelpful.

A recent vacation to New York City showed me this first hand. We sat in the Newark, N.J., airport for eight hours waiting to get to Cincinnati.

Hour after hour, delay after delay, we just kept sitting. And I was OK with that.

Mother Nature decided to dump buckets of rain across the east coast, so, what can you do?

When we finally arrived in Cincy, more than three hours after the last plane to Huntington, W.Va., had departed, all I wanted was a little help.

“Yeah?” the airline ticket desk woman said with exasperation as I approached.

I explained my situation and never once did I get an apology, an offer to help make arrangements to get home sooner or even a common courtesy.

Not one to hold a grudge, I gave her the benefit of the doubt, grabbed my vouchers for the next day’s flight and went to find a hotel.

The next day, I approached the same desk but this time a different employee was working. He went out of his way to make sure I was on the flight, in a good seat, knew where I was supposed to be and was just genuinely pleasant.

Same job, same requests, but drastically different results.

This just reinforced my belief that customer service is king when it comes to dealing with the public.

We pride ourselves on customer service here at The Ironton Tribune. Each and every one of our employees work hard to provide great customer service.

Do we always hit the mark? Probably not, but we will keep working hard to strive toward perfection.

If you call me, I will call you back within a day. E-mail me and I will try to respond ASAP.

Customer service is something that should be considered day and night, with no room in between.

Don’t let the sun go down on your chance to serve the public well.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at