Small Business

Listen to your customers

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Let me tell you about my worst shopping experience ever. I think small business owners may have me as a marked man. Enough of the tease; let's get to the story which I am happy to report has a very happy ending.

I remember one time before the world went digital when I dropped a couple of photographs into a local instant-photo processing shop. These were important shots not only because they were wanted by some of the speaking agencies, who book my lectures around the country, but more importantly they were ones which complimented the hairline.

I don't have too many photos like that these days. On leaving them and being told they would be back in a week, I asked for a receipt or form describing the transaction. The young chap replied, “No, we don't issue anything”.

Insisting I was concerned about losing the photos, he assured me everything was all right. (Don't worry old fella, this is a new age. Get along with you.) Of course, he did not say this, but I thought he might have been thinking it.

Putting away my paranoia, I said I thought it was a risky business system. He replied it was the best he had worked with and I returned fire with, “It might be the best you have worked with, but that does not make it the best system!”

“Got you there, sonny Jim. Never debate me on small business,” I thought and stupidly left the shop without any documentation. 

Seven days later in the early afternoon I returned and guess what – they weren't there!

The sales assistant said the last drop was at 5:30pm. Finding it difficult to contain my annoyance I said to the assistant that if I had been given something last week, maybe it would have said the last drop was at 5:30pm and I might not have wasted my time today.

He said it was the best system he had worked with, but there was nothing he could do. I asked to speak the manager.

Meeting the manager, she listened to my tale of woe and heard my complaints about the faulty system. She said it was the best system she had ever worked with. She endured my advice her assistants received.

And just when I thought I had won and had taught her a thing or two she checked an alternative storage spot in the shop and sure enough the photos were there!

Of course, she couldn't help it as she gave them to me – she just had to give me the ‘gotcha’ look.

Responding, I pointed out that the system did work for her, but not her assistant and everything got worse from there. The ugly scene resulted in her uttering the worst thing anyone in business can ever let loose – “If you don't like it, take your business elsewhere.”

To this I tried my last shot. It went like this: “Even if I am a pain in the butt, as a $400 a year customer, it is good practice to humour me; if only for money reasons.” I got the ‘get lost’ look.

So I got lost. Jumping in the car, I told my wife I was ringing her boss, her franchisor, her parole officer. She said, “Sure, you always say you'll do that, but you never do”.

I did. End result was a happy story. The boss was surprised, especially as his manager is generally excellent. The franchisor repeated the compliment. They both said it was the best system they had seen!

Finally, the manager rang back a few days later. He had investigated and found four faults in the system and the assistant on the first day should have given me a card. Apologies given and accepted.

That business now has a better system (let's hope it prepared them for the digital age!) They also have a happy customer with a 10% discount on future work, which I used for a time. Complaining pays all round.
 

Published on: Sunday, June 28, 2009

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