The Only Customer Service Sign You’ll Ever Need

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 26, 2009

The sign said, “The customer is the most important person in the business.” You’ve all seen the type of sign I’m talking about. They are usually framed, dusty, and hung at an angle in some obscure location.

I had called several days in advance and made an appointment for routine engine maintenance for my car at a local dealership. I informed them of the services I wanted performed, that I wanted to get an estimate on some body work to be done at a later time, and that I needed to have the car back that afternoon.

The appointment was made and I was told to have the car there at 8 o’clock sharp. When I arrived, an attentive service representative greeted me pleasantly and asked what I needed. I advised him of my name and that I had an appointment for service. He said, “that’s O.K. we’ll be able to take care of you anyway.” The sign said, “The customer does us a favor when he calls, we are not doing him a favor by serving him.”

I called the dealership around three that afternoon and was told that the car was ready. I arrived at the dealership at 4:25 and spoke to the service representative. He advised me that the keys and paperwork were with the cashier.

As I walked through the lobby the sign on the wall said, “Customer satisfaction is not policy, its our business.” The cashier’s window was unattended. There was a small bell on the counter with a note that said, “only ring once.” I did, and waited.

A cashier eventually came. I gave her my name and she sorted through a nearby file. After finding my record, she advised there would be a short wait. I politely mentioned that I had called an hour ago and had been advised that the car was ready. She responded quickly, “the car might be ready, but the paperwork isn’t.” The sign said, “The customer is not someone to match wits with.” I could clearly see that I was no match.

After about ten minutes of waiting, I inquired again. The young lady who had the paperwork informed me that they didn’t have all the information in the computer. The sign said, “The customer is not an interruption in our work, he is the purpose of it.”

I advised them that I had a 5 o’clock meeting that I didn’t want to be late. I asked if I could just pay and let them get the paperwork done later. She said I would have to wait, everything had to go through the computer. The sign said, “The customer is not a cold statistic, they have flesh and blood, with feelings and emotions just like us.”

It was obvious that, despite my planning, there was little I could now do to get back on schedule. I decided to make the best of a bad situation. The irony of the sign in the lobby was now apparent. With the intention of copying the sign, I asked another employee for a pen and paper.

Just as I was finishing my writing, the cashier said my car was ready. It was now after 5 o’clock. As I approached the window, she asked if I would give her pen back. I told her that I had just borrowed it from another employee. She said, “yea, but they borrowed it from me.” The sign said, “Customers are deserving of courteous and attentive treatment.”

On my receipt, there was a typed note that said the body repair estimate was in the car. I located my car and drove off to my meeting, arriving about thirty minutes late. The sign said, “The customer is not dependent on us, we are dependent on them.”

When I got home that evening, I searched the car but was unable to find the estimate for the body work. I called the service representative the next day. He was polite and apologetic. He said a copy of the estimate should have been with the bill and another in the car. He would try to find it and send me a copy. The sign said, “A customer brings us his wants, our job is to fill those wants.”

All the signs in the world won’t improve customer service one bit. Since I didn’t get loud and upset, I doubt that anyone connected with that business knows there was a problem. And that’s a problem!

The sign said, “The customer is a major part of our business, not an outsider.” If you’re really concerned about customer satisfaction, forget the signs and slogans. Get close to the action. Spend time with customers and employees. Look and listen. Find the problem areas and fix’em. Signs won’t make customers important, only the personal, active commitment of the boss can do that. It’s called leadership and there aren’t any good substitutes.

The sign said, “A satisfied customer is the lifeblood of business”. Because its your business, make sure its not bleeding. If it is, personally administer first aid, signs don’t make good band aids. If you need a sign, use this.

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