Passion and customer service

My post yesterday inviting local solo and small businesses to tell me about themselves and their businesses and be featured on this blog started me thinking about passion and when I read this post on "Who Are You People", I started thinking about customer service too.  Shari Caudron tells the story how she went to the post office earlier this year to send a package to India and after being abused and insulted by the post office worker (who thought he was just having a little fun).  As you may expect, this soured her experience of the post office and didn’t set a good tone for when she returned recently to the post office to mail copies of her book (also titled "Who Are You People").

The person behind the counter noticed her book and asked her about it:

I was mailing some of my books, and the clerk noticed the title.

"WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?" he asked. "What’s this book about?"
"Well," I said, bracing myself, for I was certain an insult of some sort would follow. "It’s about passionate fanatics. You know, people who get really into things, like doll collecting or Star Wars or ice fishing."
"Is is any good?"
"Oh yes," I told him. "It’s a fabulous book. Very funny. You ought to read it."

And then, taking a chance, I asked the clerk — who had a stuffed "Grumpy" doll on the counter next to him — what he was passionate about.

"Hot Wheels," he told me.
"Hot Wheels?" I asked.
"Yeah. Hot Wheels. I’ve got thousands of ’em in my basement. I started collecting when my two sons were little. They’re grown now, but I still collect ’em. They make me feel good."

We spent the next few minutes talking amiably — amiably! imagine that! — about his Hot Wheels collection. And every time I went into the post office for the next several weeks, Paul (yes, by then had had acquired a name) and I talked either about his Hot Wheels or my book.

Sure enough, when she returned to the post office just a few days ago to deal with a package that had gone missing, she waited to speak to Paul, the Hot Wheels guy, about her missing package:

Although there was a long line of glowering customers behind me, Paul called me back into his office where he spent the next ten minutes trying to locate my package. When he couldn’t locate find it, he then kindly and patiently explained how I could go about getting reimbursed for the cost of books.

"Sorry about all this," he said. And I believe he meant it.

If I hadn’t learned about Paul’s Hot Wheels collection, if I hadn’t shown an interest in something he was passionate about, I doubt I would have gotten the same level of attention. Which is a lesson to anyone involved in customer service — either as the giver or receiver. Forget what you may have heard about remembering your customers’ birthdays or kids’ names. If you really want to get to know someone — and have them remember you — find out what they’re passionate about.

Isn’t this the way we should be approaching customer service?  Make the whole process about your customer, not about you doing the deal or taking the order.  Take an interest in your customer and give your customer a reason to do business with you.  After all, don’t we often first look to do business with people we know and trust?

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