Written by: Paul A Cicchini, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
A few months back, I wrote about honesty in business, and that is certainly still important. This month, however, my quirky, curveball-a-minute personal life has inspired me to tell you about an equally important aspect of business success: Customer Service. Yes, I capitalized those words because it’s just that important for the survival of your business. Customer Service.
The many misadventures of Sir Paul have taken me to the Pacific Northwest and back to the wilds of New Jersey this month. All along the way, I’ve had numerous encounters with companies as a traveling consumer and many have led me to take copious mental notes of which behaviors to avoid and which to emulate in my dealings with my own clientele.
Names of companies are conspicuously absent in these examples below because I don’t want anyone to think my opinion is biased or that I’ve been compensated in some way for endorsing said corporations. It’s not that I nobly refused any bribes; it’s just that none ever came my way…sadly.
The Flight Out
I had the luxury of choosing from a few different airlines for my trip out west, and I chose the one that has a dignified Innuit guy as its corporate logo. I did so because several friends mentioned that they had the most enjoyable experience with them. Well, as enjoyable as it can be when you are encased in a big metal flying tube that only has one bathroom per fifty travelers. Anyway, I guess my friends jinxed them because they temporarily lost the luggage of about twenty-five passengers, including me. Their corporate sin was not that they lost the luggage. Things like that happen with the mountains of American Tourister's and Louis Vuitton's (do I get credit for not going for the cheap laugh with a crack about lost Ameila Earhart luggage here?) they must handle in one day. The problem was that no one could give us a straight answer. Now, compare that to the phone call I had with an auto tune-up shop the week before. Even though his price wasn’t the cheapest, I gave him my business. Why? Because during the entire call, he kept me engaged—he told me why extra labor was needed for the job, he gave me options, he joked with me, and he thanked me for my patience while his dinosaur-slow inventory system looked up the part.
CUSTOMER SERVICE COMMANDMENT #1: KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS INFORMED.
I’ve heard a lot of rationales as to why car rental prices are suddenly through the roof. Inflation. Post-COVID demand. Supply chain issues. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. I get it, but I also have mouths to feed. So, I decided to try this new company that doesn’t have brick-and-mortar pick-up/drop-off sites. They use ‘surfers’ to deliver the cars to you. It cuts down on overhead, and they pass the savings on to the customer. I did save a ton of money with this service, and the car was actually nice. Very nice, in fact. However, I’m reluctant to use them again because their staff, these ‘surfers,’ were so poorly dressed and groomed, I felt like I was a party to an illicit drug deal. The thought even crossed my mind, “Was the rental so cheap because the car was stolen??”
CUSTOMER SERVICE COMMANDMENT #2: APPEARANCES MATTER
No one would consider me a globe trotter, but I get around. So much so that as a hobby, I started writing reviews for a travel-advising website. I’ve written almost one hundred reviews, and I’ve learned a few lessons from it. One lesson? Website room photos are misleading. My trip to Washington state was for my best friend’s wedding. He reserved a block of rooms at a hotel that I thought was too pricey.
So, I outsmarted myself and booked a room at another place down the road. It looked idyllic (but modern) and romantic from the pictures on the website and I got the room for a much lower price than the ritzy resort/spa where everyone else was. Surprise! Only half of the rooms at the property were renovated (like in the photos) and the rest were straight out of a scene from the movie “Deliverance.” You guessed it; we got the scary accommodations. Fortunately, the wedding rehearsal that evening was back at the pricey resort. I pretty much begged for a room there. I was almost out of luck because it was officially sold out, but the woman at the front desk worked feverishly to follow up on reservation no-shows and got us a room. I nearly kissed her. Of course, by that time, I didn’t care what I paid and justified it with the benefits of being close to our friends and all the wedding action.
CUSTOMER SERVICE COMMANDMENT #3: BE A PROBLEM-SOLVER
After the wedding, we moved on to Seattle to do “real touristy” things like the Space Needle. More accommodation problems! The air conditioning was broken in our room. To their credit, the hotel management followed commandment #3 mentioned above and creatively solved the problem by allowing us to stay…in three different rooms, mind you… while they worked on the HVAC. To compensate us for the inconvenience, the general manager paid for our dinner at a restaurant in the hotel. We were still a bit irritated when we arrived for dinner, but we were met by the young head chef, who also happened to own the restaurant. He sensed our agitation and soothed us immediately. His first statement to us was, “Breathe easy. You’re in my hands now. I’ve got you, and I’m going to really make your night.” He sure did. He sat down with us, told us about everything on the menu, chatted with us for a good long time, and gave us advice about the city. By the end of the night, we felt like we had made a new friend. We forgot all about our frustrations with our oven, er,… room and the vacation was salvaged.
CUSTOMER SERVICE COMMANDMENT #4: HAVE EMPATHY
Many of you may be thinking that any trip to Seattle would be lacking without a mention of that famous fish company where they entertain onlookers by signing and throwing their smelly wares around. After all, they have such a reputation for customer service that there have been books written about it. Unfortunately, I can’t judge them fairly. We got to Pike Place Market on a Sunday. Less than twenty minutes before they closed for the day. Not the ideal time to expect them to be at the top of their entertainment game. They were tired and ready to go home, and I don’t blame them. But there is a lesson to be had here.
CUSTOMER SERVICE COMMANDMENT #5: BE PATIENT. EVEN AT CLOSING TIME.
Back home from vacation, it was time to deal with the crisis of rising prices. My work now requires me to sometimes drive over one hundred miles a day. With today’s skyrocketing gas prices, my old, guzzling SUV was not only affecting my bottom line but was also threatening to put me in the poor house. So, I decided to shop for a more economical vehicle, and because I used to host and produce a cable TV show about cars, hey, it also had to be fun to drive.
Now, I know every comedian has a joke about used car salesmen, but I actually found a dealership with integrity. It’s tough to live down that reputation, but they certainly did. I found a car on their lot that I fell in love with. Unfortunately, the car seemed to be cursed with a ‘check engine’ light that would not go away. My wife joked that it must have been assembled on an ancient burial ground. I was the official owner for three weeks, but it was in the dealership’s service department more than I had it on the road. The owner of the dealership insisted on trying to make it right for me, not charging me for repairs, sending the car to a brand specialist, and paying for it himself.
All the while providing me with a loaner car so I wouldn’t be inconvenienced. He didn’t have to do that. He could have just as easily said, “Tough luck. You bought the car without a warranty,” but he had integrity, and he cared about me as a customer. The car that I bought from him was over ten years old. Every other car on that lot was newer, more exotic, and a lot more expensive, but Simon treated me like I was buying a Lamborghini. P.S. Simon also followed Commandment #1 and kept me informed through the whole process. Alas, I finally gave up on the car, and Simon had no issue with canceling the deal. In fact, he sent his service manager down to my house (an hour-long trip) to return my old SUV and pick up the accursed Econo-sports car. It didn’t work out that time. But if I am ever in the market for another used car, I will definitely give them my business first.
CUSTOMER SERVICE COMMANDMENT #6: NEVER MISS AN OPPORTUNITY TO GO THE EXTRA MILE
I’ll leave you with this one last example. My other car is my baby. It’s fast, flashy, and completely impractical, but I love it. I even have a pet name for it. If Pee Wee Herman ever saw me fawn over my convertible he’d probably sneer, “If you love it so much why don’t you marry it?” Suffice it to say that I enjoy maintaining it and treating it with TLC. I recently brought it in for an oil change at one of those big chain stores that specialize in lube jobs. When I pulled up, no one greeted me. In fact, I was ignored for almost fifteen minutes. When I finally did get waited on, one of the workers complained to the manager that he didn’t get his break and refused to climb down into the pit to drain my oil. I felt embarrassed. It occurred to me I would never have made it as an overseer when they built the pyramids. “Hey, guys…I’m sorry. One more block? Pretty please? Ice cream’s on me. There’s a truck back by the sphinx.” When I was finished at the lube place, I made a vow never to go back, no matter how many coupons they sent me.
CUSTOMER SERVICE COMMANDMENT #7: ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING.
Being a publisher means that I don’t often deal directly with my customers. Returns are handled automatically, and the few times I get negative reviews on my writing, I take them to heart and work on my craft. My other business, however, is a completely different story. As a psychologist, I deal with students, educators, and parents every moment of the day. Sometimes I get to deliver good news. Other times, people aren’t in a great mood after I lay down some truth. I’ve learned through the years that even when you are tired, ready to go home, not in the best frame of mind, etc., you still have to be pleasant, patient, informative, caring, and helpful with your problems. Not only does it keep the villagers with pitchforks and torches away from my door, but it even makes me feel good.
Paul A Cicchini, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Sir Paul Cicchini M.Ed., Ed.S., NCSP is a nationally certified school psychologist. He specializes in character education and is the only school psychologist on the East Coast to be certified in the new field of Social Emotional Learning (SEL)/Character Ed (Rutgers Univ. 2016). He is the owner of One Knight Publishing, LLC
Sir Paul aspires to be a well-rounded Renaissance man. His list of personal accomplishments includes cable television host (Cars Weekly Video Magazine-Philadelphia), AP credentialed sports journalist, humorist, adjunct professor, martial artist, fencer, semi-pro football player, high school football coach, collegiate football scout. His title of "Sir" comes from his rank of Knights Commander with the Templar Knights SMOTJ.
His second novel, YOUNG CYRANO, is the fictionalized account of the teenage life of Cyrano de Bergerac. It received a rating from the respected Readers’ Favorite website (click a link to read their five-star review). Paul’s most recent novel, THE ESSENTIALZ is about a team of teenage superheroes that undergo the same challenges as modern teens.