Customer Service, Common Sense, and the Era We Live In

Recently, my daughter-in-law and her friend developed great disdain for a local, franchised auto parts store. The incident initiated when, aided by my son the mechanic, the women went online to look up the item needed for the friend’s ailing auto. According to the store’s website inventory, the item in question was in stock. With that satisfaction in mind, the girls proceeded to that particular automotive DIYer’s saving grace––where things quickly turned ugly.

Although the counterman listened to the women’s request, he treated them as if they had no idea what they were talking about––as if the item they wanted didn’t even exist. The situation escalated when, after intense lengthy discussion, the counterman admitted he was “great with computers, but he really wasn’t a car guy.” Really? Totally put off by the encounter, the girls drove to another franchised parts store nearby, asked for the same item, and received it without argument. Gratified, they paid for the part and walked out minutes later.

So what went wrong within this entire episode? What was lacking, and what could have been done differently to avoid such a customer service disaster?

The obvious elephant in the room–– did the first store’s counterman view the women as merely two females, completely incapable of bearing any automotive knowledge? If so, he violated one of the primary rules of quality customer service: Upon greeting customers, treat everyone equally and respectfully (a.k.a. professionally).

What else could the counterman have done? For starters, if he was unfamiliar with the item the ladies requested, he should have asked for assistance from another more experienced employee. If he was the only employee on duty, he could have called another store and asked for their help. In addition, he should have explained that online inventories seldom match in-store stock. (Face it, for those numbers to jibe, someone has to update the store’s website with every sale, which, plain and simple, just ain’t happening––for any retailer.) The man also could have checked his computer to verify that the requested item: 1) actually existed in their catalog; 2) if not in stock, was on order or backorder, or could be ordered; and 3) was possibly available at another of the area’s franchise stores, and he would gladly call to verify. Beyond that he could have not only apologized for not having the item, but also recommended they try one of the other local part stores––maybe even offered to call one or two. Kudos to the second parts store’s employee for handling the ladies’ request accurately, efficiently, and without prejudice.

That said, could the two women have done anything to avoid this situation? I believe they could, which is where a bit of common sense and the era we live in come in to play. Yes, the ladies’ quick fix would have been to send my son on this errand, stay home, play with the kids, sip wine, or go shopping instead. But with the friend’s disabled car instigating the parts chase, he was preoccupied. So I applaud the gals for their initiative to attack the parts search head-on. However, following the online investigation, rather than believing that because the website indicated the part was in stock it would be, (an unfortunate, online era mindset) they could have (should have) reverted to the old-fashioned technique of calling first to ensure the part’s availability, saved some gas, and sidestepped a ton of aggravation. Hopefully, lesson learned.

Having worked and taught in assorted venues in the customer service field, I view this entire incident as a lesson for us all, and a prime example that Quality Customer Service is an often misunderstood and fading art. And that is a shame. Quality Customer Service is not only about offering products or services, it must first focus on the customers and their needs. The Golden Rule of Quality Customer Service is The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In that respect, Quality Customer Service should be perceived as far more than an occupation. Instead, it should be a way of life we all practice every day. So how ’bout it, folks?

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