The customer comes first

Published 8:11 pm Friday, April 9, 2010

Sometime ago I mentioned the worst customer service and the best customer service I ever received—all in the same week.

I reprise the saga because the hero of the story recently and tragically died.

To refresh your memory, for a number of years I had done business with a local investment firm. The locals sold the company to a national concern and moved on. I assumed nothing would change with the new folks in charge. Silly me.

Email newsletter signup

Soon after, I had a check to be deposited in my account. Because I didn’t have time to park, I told the crack staff to send someone down to pick up the check. That didn’t sit well with the crack staff. They were very busy and I was informed that the firm “wasn’t a drive-in bank.” Because I was a tad miffed (to put it mildly) with their arrogance, the firm added that it really didn’t want my business anymore. They fired me before I could tell them to allocate their assets where the sun doesn’t shine.

Happily, I put my meager money with a firm that seems to appreciate me if not my impact on their bottom line and we have lived happily ever after, even in this dumper of a market.

While this snit was underway, I read of a little wooden easel on sale at Binder’s Art Supplies in Atlanta, not far from the financial firm’s offices. The easel was $40 and small enough to leave at St. Simons for the times when I wished to scratch my artistic itch. When I arrived at the store, I was told they were sold out but more easels would arrive later that day. When I came back, still no easels.

This was turning out to be a bad-hair day. I was about as happy with Binders as I was at being told I was not dealing with a “drive-in bank.” That is when someone came over to inquire about my displeasure. He turned out to be one of the co-owners, Jay Shapiro. He said he would have one in the shop the next morning.

Sure enough, early the next morning I was the proud possessor of a little wooden easel. But how did the store manage to get one delivered during the night?

It turns out that Mr. Shapiro got in his car at 10 p.m. and drove 20 miles to pick it up at the warehouse. He no doubt lost money on the sale, but he gained a loyal customer. Others have told me of similar efforts he made on their behalf. No customer request was too unimportant for this man.

Jay Shapiro, 57, died a couple of weeks ago of glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumor. He was diagnosed only a month or so before his death, and I never got to tell him goodbye. He left us way too early.

In the meantime, the poobahs at the financial firm have turned over faster than IHOP pancakes. Interestingly, the locals who first got me and my nest egg into their firm have started a new asset management company. They are good, bright people and should do well in their new venture. But they won’t do it with my hard-earned money.

For some unfathomable reason, the organization has brought on board the same people who decided good customer service didn’t include getting their bohunkus downstairs from their plush offices to pick up my check and invest it for my family’s future. Can you imagine them driving across town after work to pick up a $40 wooden easel?

People can run their organizations as they choose. I can also spend my money where I choose. It’s not a hard choice. It depends on whether or not people want my business.

Why should all of this matter to you?

Just remember that it doesn’t matter if you are selling widgets, want ads, ham sandwiches, sophisticated investment services or $40 wooden easels—it is all the same. The difference is in how you treat the customer. The customer comes first. Not your ego.

Too many companies have forgotten that. Jay Shapiro never did.