Anyone who has dealt with me professionally knows that I am all about customer service. It’s my day job (M&E) and my other day job (SDS). It has been a major part of my upbringing, as I was taught about it by both of my grandfathers and my father. My maternal grandfather owned a men’s clothing store in Newark for over 40 years, my paternal grandfather was president of the family electrical contracting business, and of course my father was president of the M&E. All of them expressed to me in their own ways the importance of proper customer service. For Harry, the store owner, it was to listen to your customers and provide them with what they need, and make them look good. To do this, he had a large inventory, and a staff that could do the needed alterations quickly. For Jules, the company president, it was to listen to your customers and have workers that can properly do a top quality job for a fair price. For Ben, the railroader, it was to listen to your customers and learn their business so that you can anticipate their needs and provide them with stellar service. The common thread here? Listen to your customers.
Twice over the last couple of weeks I have encountered instances of people who think they are providing customer service, but instead are just talking because they have been told this is what they are supposed to say. The first instance came at the Post Office. I was bringing a small package that a co-worker wanted me to send for them, and before going over there we had looked online at the rates, and had decided that Priority Mail would provide the best combination of cost and speed for what was being sent. I walked up to the counter, and told the postal employee that I would like to send this by Priority Mail. The employee then proceeded to tell me how Express Mail would be three times the price and I stopped her and told her again that I would like to send it Priority Mail. She then proceeded to start the explanation about Express Mail again, and when I stopped her again she informed me that she had to give me the speech. I asked her to please not give me the speech since I had already requested which service I wanted, and that was what I was going to use. I understand that the USPS is hurting, but trying to up-sell your customers at every turn is not a way to engender people coming back.
The second instance happened the other day when I was in a fast food restaurant, and I walked up to the counter and asked what came on the Asiago Ranch chicken sandwich. The person at the counter told me that there was chicken, Asiago cheese, Ranch Dressing, Lettuce, and Tomato. So I ordered the sandwich with no Lettuce or Tomato, and she asked me if I wanted the Mayo on the sandwich. I then asked why would you put Mayo on something that had Ranch Dressing on it, and she then said that there wasn’t Ranch on the sandwich! I then asked how was it called an Asiago Ranch chicken sandwich if it didn’t have have Ranch, and she then insisted that it had Mayo! So in the end I got my sandwich with Ranch dressing and no Mayo, or Tomato, but it had Lettuce. I survived, nonetheless.
In both instances, the customer was just not being listened to (or I am just becoming a cranky old man?) and if the people had taken the time to listen to the customer, neither exchange would have happened (and I wouldn’t have had Lettuce on my sandwich). Take the time to listen to whom you are talking. It is real easy to try to multitask while you are on the phone, but there is nothing more disconcerting to a customer when they are trying to talk to you and it is obvious that you are not paying attention to them.
—By Steve Friedland
Steve Friedland is a child of the railroad industry. Following summers and vacations working on the track gang for the family-owned Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he started full-time in 1994. He has worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations, and currently is a member of the management team for the company as director of operations in Morristown, N.J. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He currently serves as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and is chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He also is a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.