It's been above 100 degrees in the Houston area for about a week now. With the humidity, it feels like 165 degrees. (That's an estimate.)
When I turned on the industrial fan that I bought a month ago for our backyard, it moved about as much air as a ceiling fan. The fact that I had 1) probably overpaid for the monstrosity and 2) spent an hour assembling it got my blood heated even more than the 173 degree afternoon (again, an estimate).
It had worked fine for a couple of weeks, and then… kaput. Even though I had several projects on my plate, I immediately wrestled that heavy fan into the back of my truck.
My wife began to suggest that I take a breath but realized that I was possessed.
On top of that, I couldn't find the receipt. I can't be sure that on the drive over I wasn't role-playing the argument I wanted to have about not having my receipt. Did I mention that I paid a lot for the thing, and it took an hour to put together? And it was 182 degrees (estimated) in Houston that day.
I rolled the fan through the hot parking lot and had folks smile and shake their heads. That didn't help. When I entered the store, there was only one guy ahead of me. Unfortunately, he was applying for credit.
The two employees on hand were both working with him and apparently having to contact his accountant, his 3rd grade teacher, and his priest.
When it was finally my turn, I dragged the fan to the counter, looking for an argument. The elderly man behind the counter looked at me with a half-smile and said, "I'm guessing you didn't drag that thing in to tell me how much you love it."
The smile and chuckle he elicited from me was the last thing I wanted to begin my tirade with. He let me take 30 seconds to vent how frustrated I was with that fan and then said, "Man, I hate hearing that. And to spend that much time putting it together makes it worse. I'm sorry you went through that."
Poof, there went my tirade. I was most upset about the waste of my time, and he acknowledged it. We ended up chatting about the 193 degree (estimated) weather while he retrieved a copy of my receipt. We shook hands and parted friends.
I walked out of there a more loyal customer than before. Oh, the power of humor and empathy.
The next customer who brings you a problem is presenting an opportunity to end, or actually strengthen, a relationship. Which will you choose?
One of my most used lines when dealing with apathetic and/or nonresponsive service providers is, "So… business must be really good these days."
I'm pretty sure that most don't grasp the sarcasm. My point is that I'm guessing that only people who have an overabundance of work would not seem to worry about an individual customer.
That said, I'm always impressed when I encounter folks who show that they don't take business for granted. Just such an encounter happened last week in California. The airport I flew into was relatively quiet, and there was no line at the taxi queue.
The first driver in line jumped out of his cab and came around the back to get my bags. He gave me a loud welcome and asked where I was going. When he got back into the cab, he turned around and handed me his business card.
As we drove away, he told me that he would be happy to be "my ride" while in town. He quickly mentioned local attractions that I might be interested in and how far they were from my hotel. It was almost like listening to a city tour guide.
When I told him I wouldn't have time to do any sightseeing, he told me that he'd be happy to at least be my return ride to the airport.
In the past I've had cabbies mention a return ride to the airport, but this guy left no doubt that he wanted the business. On this particular trip, I figured I wouldn't be taking a cab again, but I told him that I appreciated his offer.
I also gave him a better than standard tip. As he handed me my bag, he wished me a great day and told me to keep his card in case I changed my mind and needed a ride.
I actually found myself a little motivated as I walked into the hotel. Maybe it's an indictment on service levels today that a cab driver hustling for business made that kind of impression on me.
I also contemplated the fact that this cab driver and most of us have more in common than you might think. We provide services that folks can get elsewhere. Whether or not they choose us often comes down to something as simple as asking for and showing appreciation for the business.
This week, make sure that your customers have no doubt that you value their business and would love the opportunity to do more for them.