Treating Customers Like Royalty

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

One of the things successful businesses have in common is that they provide good customer service. Senior citizens and especially baby boomers demand it, and start-up enterprises that neglect this aspect of commerce do so at their own risk.

If Time Warner Cable on Staten Island had trained its service staff to treat customers with more respect, I would probably still be using its Road Runner broadband service.

Whenever the weather was bad, I would lose my Internet service because the poorly installed cable line would become waterlogged. The recent thunderstorms that knocked out electrical service in Queens prompted yet another service call to Time Warner, and the cable company representative snidely berated me for reporting so many outages and then canceling the repair calls.

I explained that the original installation was apparently faulty and, rather than doing the right thing and installing it properly, the repairman would merely jury-rig the connection with duct tape. This only worked until the next storm. Once the cable dried out, my service would come back.

As I was explaining this, I wondered why I was even wasting my breath talking to this rude and unreceptive agent. I abruptly canceled my service and called Verizon, which had recently wired my neighborhood for its superfast FiOS service.

Competition is a wonderful thing. It promotes innovative solutions and progress. I now have fiber-optic Internet service that is not only less expensive but faster than what I had before, and it is not affected by intemperate weather. When Verizon gets approval for fiber-optic television service in New York, it’s bye-bye to Time Warner Cable.

If every time I had called Time Warner to report an outage I had received considerate customer service and an apology for the poor connection, perhaps I wouldn’t have switched. Instead, I reached individuals who acted as if I had interrupted their lives with my complaint. Why should we put up with this?

Ironically, I was recently at a book party that was relevant to my experience. These events usually feature tomes on political or social issues, but this time, the unlikely starring title at the Princeton Club was “Treat Your Customers: Thirty Lessons on Service and Sales That I Learned at My Family’s Dairy Queen Store.”

The author is a charming immigrant from India, Bob Miglani, who grew up in New Jersey and worked summers at his family’s Dairy Queen franchise. What he learned there helped him to become a top-notch sales executive with a Fortune 500 company. The book itself is small and can be read in one day, but it’s chock-full of common sense lessons that should be required knowledge for every MBA student.

Mr. Miglani charmingly uses references to the ice cream business for the names of some of his chapters, but the lessons apply to every industry: Always replace a dropped cone; once in a while, taste your own ice cream; if they ask for a medium cone, give them a medium cone. Chapter 3 covers the basic premise: The customer is still royalty.

After Mr. Miglani’s short but inspiring speech at the book party, he opened the floor to comments and questions. One gentleman lauded the excellent care with which Omaha Steaks delivers its product. It’s always fast and delicious, and the customer service is top-notch. He was so enthusiastic that I found myself eager to treat myself to an Omaha Steak. That’s another perk from treating customers right — the word of mouth.

But how are corporations and even small businesses treating their customers now? My first full-time job was with the New York Telephone Company.I went through an excruciating six-week training course, and incoming calls were monitored by supervisors and quality analysts. I handled everything from installations to credit calls and billing. Now problems are handled by robots and touch-tone buttons one through nine.

In retail shops, helpful sales personnel are vital, yet many stores are represented by disgruntled and listless employees. Mr. Miglani says happy employees make the best sales staff. Employees who are treated with respect do their jobs well. This precept works well in any industry.

Big box stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and others encounter bitter opposition from politicians and unions when they try to come into our community. The opponents claim that smaller mom and pop stores will be threatened, but that’s just not realistic. My local hardware store disappeared after Home Depot came to town, but no one missed it because the owners were rude and inattentive to anyone but favored customers.

Any business that treats its customers like royalty, as Mr. Miglani’s book suggests, need not fear a Wal-Mart.

The New York Sun

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