One of America’s most distinguished copywriters spells it out.
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I now can tell you what is wrong with America, because I saw it
last week at Best Buy.
A few nights ago, my wife and I went to Best Buy to buy a
microwave oven; we had moved to a new home a few weeks ago, and
the new house didn’t have one.
Although the store was well staffed, we were ignored as we stood
in the microwave oven aisle. So I went to a young woman sitting
at a help desk and told her we wanted to buy a microwave. “No
problem” she said. “I will send someone right over.”
Ten minutes later – no one came. Irritated, I marched back to
the young woman sitting at the help desk and, to my amazement,
saw 3 blue-shirted Best Buy salesmen standing around, next to
her desk, shooting the breeze.
Americans have developed, in the words of writer Harlan Ellison,
a “slacker mentality.”
In my observation, not everyone, but certainly a significant
majority of workers, just don’t seem to give a crap about their
job, their business, or their customers.
The incident at Best Buy reminded me of a business rule of thumb
told to me years ago: When someone is trying to give you money,
don’t make it difficult for them to do so. We were ready to make
a $246 purchase (including a 4-year service plan), and no one
seemed particularly interested in taking our cash.
After Best Buy, we stopped at a Chinese buffet restaurant for
dinner – new to us because as I said we just moved here.
Here, we experienced the opposite of Best Buy: great customer
service. My son took a hard-shell crab from the buffet and then
couldn’t open it. (I once lived in Baltimore where, when you ate
hard-shell crabs, you did so with a wooden mallet in your hand.
I never liked it.)
Our nice waitress showed him how to open it with a fork and
spoon, patiently waiting until the task was done and then
showing him what parts were safe to eat and which were not.
Here’s another attitude adjustment you may need to make:
increasingly, small business owners who work at home answer
their phones in a tone that is wary (instead of open and
friendly) at best and downright hostile at worst.
JH, a graphic designer, did this when I called her the other day
to see if she could design a direct mail package for one of my
clients. She answers in a flat, cold “hello?” She did not even
give her name. When I asked her about doing the job, she
answered in clipped monosyllables, as if I were annoying her.
The next day, I received this e-mail from her: “Bob, I want to
apologize for my unwelcoming answer to your phone call the other
day. I usually don’t answer a call when I don’t know who is calling,
but I recognized your name, so I did answer this time. The phone
rings a lot these days and most of the time it’s an 800 number
I thanked JH, but told her: too little, too late. She has lots
of competition, and I have more than enough graphic designers
who will happily take on my client’s projects with an attitude
of enthusiasm. Her disdain for telemarketers is simply not my
problem, nor should it be.
It’s ironic. Business is more competitive than ever. The
recession has made consumer and business customers alike tighter
with a dollar. Your customers have more choices for the services
and products they want to buy than at any time in recorded
history. Yet when customers walk in the door or pick up the
phone, so many entrepreneurs send them running, blowing the sale
on the spot.
I am reminded of something billionaire insurance entrepreneur
A.L. Williams once said: “You beat 90% of the competition just
by showing up. The other 10% you must defeat in a vicious
With their counter-productive, anti-customer attitude and
behavior, so many businesspeople I encounter today are losing
right out of the gate. I hope you are not one of them.
P.S. For more guidance and advice on how to give great customer
service, check out a used copy of my 272-page, hardcover,
out-of-print book “Keeping Clients Satisfied,” published by
Prentice Hall and available on Amazon for – and this pains me –
just a penny: