Not one of my virtues

June 1, 2006
Customer service remains a priority for job shop owners

Customer service remains a priority for job shop owners

I ’ve been sent to the supermarket; the goal-pick up some critically needed ingredients for a recipe that is being prepared for a party tonight. You know it must be just short of a panic asking me to do some unaccompanied grocery shopping. It’s not that I haven’t, occasionally, but by the time my wife carefully describes each item to be purchased, even down to label markings and store location, it’s hardly a time saver for her.

Once there, I zip through the store, grab the three items, and head for the Express Checkout line, where only one customer is ahead of me. Looks like I can do this in record time? Wrong! The transaction ahead of me is being accomplished at a turtle’s pace. I won’t bore you with the details. I am beginning to get a little annoyed. OK, a lot annoyed, because the sign reads Express and this is far from it.

A voice from behind me, in a perfect impression of Peter Sellers doing an impression of an Indian philosopher, says, “You must have patience sir.” Now how did he know I was doing a slow burn? Oh yeah, body language; I’m told I am very expressive that way.

With chagrin I agree with this reincarnation of Gandhi dressed in a knit shirt and jeans: “Patience in the face of incompetence is not one of my virtues,” I say. But he doesn’t let this conversation end, as we continue to wait, “I too have experienced recent incompetence.” And he commences to tell me that the sign at the local post office reads, Open 6:30 AM to 5:30 PM, but when he went to pick up his mail at 7:30 AM he was informed the counter didn’t open until 8:00 AM. His protests to the clerks, that the sign says open at 6:30 AM, fell on deaf ears apparently because he mounted a campaign to find out why the sign is incorrect. I try to explain that open means you can access your postal box but not obtain full services for all the hours posted.

But he will hear none of this. The more he talks the more excited he gets, finally losing that great Sellers impression so that I can hardly understand what he says, until thankfully I am able to check out and depart, except that he also checks out and follows me across the parking lot continuing to inveigh against the U.S. Postal Service.

Driving home I ruminate on why two service-related events got the two of us going and my mind flashes to several recent conversations I had with people running multi-unit laser cutting job shops. I’ve interviewed them to find out the differences that separate them from shops running fewer laser cutters. Other than the obvious ones-faster turnaround times, ability to run unattended, and ease of scheduling 24/7 operation-the response I heard from all the shops was, “We are able to better serve our customers.”

Interesting that this was a volunteer offering by all the shops interviewed, and it was usually the first comment made, causing me to think that customer service is always on the minds of the shop owners.

Surely, I asked, customers are not focused exclusively on service? Quite the opposite, I am told. Service is key to all contract negotiations, to the extent that the shop owners tell me they can offset lower price quotes from competitors by the level of service they offer. This concept of customer first is not new, but in today’s environment seeing it practiced so fully is refreshing.

I should mention that departing the parking lot and, getting the attention of my still-fuming store companion, I said, “You really should practice more patience sir.” And, smiling a Peter Sellers smirk, smugly drove home.

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David A. Belforte
[email protected]

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