Saturday, July 25, 2009

Serve Your Way to Success

How important is service to a new company? Jeff was starting a bookstore and needed to learn the industry. So he want to a book industry conference and attended a seminar by Richard Howorth, then president of the American Booksellers Association. Howorth challenged the attendees with an incident at his bookstore. Here's a paraphrased version, from Howorth's perspective:

I was in my upstairs office when the bookstore manager confronted me with a problem. A lady was very upset and he couldn't deal with her. So I walked downstairs to meet the lady, who, sure enough, was steaming.

"What may I do for you?" I asked.

She replied that while her car was parked in front of my store, someone dropped dirt on it from a potted plant on the second story balcony. Her lawyer husband had just washed the car that morning.

"May I wash your car? I offered.

She agreed and I said, "Let's go."

So I hop into the back seat with the irate lady and her friend up front, directing her to a service station that offers car washes. It's out of order. Now she's mad at me for yet another travesty. So I direct her to my house on the other side of town and cheerfully wash her car with a hose and a bucket of soapy water.

Interestingly, it wasn't a nice car. Paint was flaking off. Who knows whether the husband had actually washed it? It was crazy. "But I pretend like I'm washing a late-model Cadillac."

After the wash, we head back to the bookstore, where the lady apologizes and thanks me.

Later that day, she returned to the store and bought a lot of books. The next day one of my workers overheard her telling the story to a group of friends at the local Holiday Inn.

The point? Go over the top with customer service. News travels fast. Treat customers like royalty and they'll spread the word.

By the way, the Jeff at the beginning of the story, the one who attended Howorth's seminar, took his advice to heart and strove to make his new bookstore tops in customer service. His full name is Jeff Bezos, whose bookstore has become the largest in the world - [From Get Big Fast, by Robert Spector (UK: Random House Business Books, 2000), pp. 52,53]

Find more character stories at Legacy Educational Resources at .