Monday, June 22

Serving Bert: Lessons In Customer Service


"Always remember that what might seem like an annoying inconvenience can often be the platform for a long-term positive experience." — Richard Becker

When my daughter requested that Bert, from the long-running television show Sesame Street, join us for breakfast, I had a choice. I could grumble away the request with all sorts of "good" excuses. Or, I could accommodate by setting the table for three instead of two.

I chose the latter, propping up the miniature Bert on a chair twenty times his size. And why not? Bert didn't need much more than a place setting, silverware, and a paper napkin.

As strange as it may sound, minimal effort can produce maximum results. Instead of reinforcing proper table manners, imposing some meaningless rule like "no stuffed toys at the table," or working to hurry my daughter along without "distractions," the novelty of having Bert join us for breakfast set a positive day in motion. It changes the conversation.

It made her happy, and happy children are much more likely to finish breakfast quickly, easily, and neatly. More than that, her happiness was infectious.

It's also a lesson in customer service. Consider the Kinkos employee who invested his time in telling us how couldn't help while my team member and I stood waiting in line or the OfficeDepot employee who seemed put out after he had brought out an office chair. While neither incident is really worth going into detail, it does provide a subtle and all-too-common contrast.

Neither employee risked losing anything, other than a few seconds to service. The first could have looked behind the counter to see if the order was in rather than take an equal amount of time to explain why he couldn't help. The second could have been less concerned about whether I had chosen the wrong retrieval card (it turned out that another employee had mixed two sets together). Instead, their inconvenience was infectious.

Not so much for me, as much as other customers, especially at OfficeDepot. One of the other customers waiting in line chimed up that "he might need to sit in a chair for as long as he has been waiting for one." Then another customer was also quick to express how she felt pushed off while the employee finished with me. And with each passing comment, the employee seemed less happy to be there.

As for me, I had no complaints. Bert, earlier, had finished his pretend breakfast. And my daughter ate all her Honey Nut Cheerios. It goes to show you, customer service is like that. We often have an opportunity to decide which moments in life are annoying inconveniences or opportunities for a long-term positive experience.

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