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Customer Service…It’s All About Hiring

Companies spend a lot of time and money training their employees to treat their customers well. And, as a former head of several employee and leadership development functions, I strongly supported that effort. But what I think is even far more critical is hiring the right person in the first place. While skill is important, I say hire for customer focus, integrity, determination and drive.

Let me contrast two organizations that my wife and I frequent. First of all, I don’t drink much, I don’t smoke, I exercise regularly and I am in excellent health. But, ice cream is my vice and I often go to an old fashion dairy not far from my house to feed that craving. This dairy, which has been around since the early 1900’s, is the type of establishment your grandma went to every week. In fact, many people still drive up and get their milk, eggs, butter, or a soft serve ice cream all without leaving the comfort of your air-conditioned car. The people who work here are generally high school kids.

While I am picking up a chocolate soft serve, my wife, who is quite crafty and creative, is at the local fabric store. It’s the only fabric store in the area and has more bolts of material than one could ever imagine. The people who work here are generally older women who have sewed all their life and likely spend the weekends playing with their grand kids.

The level of customer service we get from each establishment couldn’t be more different. At one business we can’t wait to come back. At the other, we can’t wait for a competitor to move in so we can go somewhere else. I’m guessing that you are thinking it’s the dairy where the service is lacking because how can nice little old ladies not be helpful and friendly. Wrong!

The service at the dairy is amazing. They greet me with a smile. They politely ask me what I want. They run, yes RUN, to the back of the dairy to get my order and run back. Then, they deliver it with a smile. And in that rare instance when they make a small mistake, they say, “I’m sorry sir, let me fix that.” And if I ordered a medium, they’ve sometimes bring me a large to compensate for the error. But, I rarely order a medium. I always walk out feeling better than when I walked in and can’t wait to come back.

In those rare instances when I’m sent out to get fabric, I always leave with an increased blood pressure saying, “I will never go back to that store again!” My wife had another one of those experiences the other day when those seemingly “nice-old-ladies” were crabby and unhelpful. After getting no help finding what she needed and having to search the store on her own, she found herself at the cash register ready to pay. Apparently asking for a gift receipt was well above a reasonable request as evident by the growl on the employee’s face. And, generating that gift receipt was a seemingly impossible task that only a manager could do.

When I walk into any establishment, I expect, what I call, the Two C’s:

  1. Care
  2. Competence

Most people are forgiving if you lack competence but are friendly and show a desire to help. It’s amazing how far an “I’m sorry but I just started” will go. Showing care and empathy makes a big difference.  I’ve talked about both of these organizations with friends who will invariably say that they must train their employees really well. Or, not at all in the case of the fabric store. In my mind, this isn’t a training issue but a hiring issue. Crabby people will often hire more crabby people. And friendly people will hire more friendly and helpful people. We should hire for CARE and then train people to have the COMPETENCE in their job.

If you ever find yourself in Pleasanton, California driving around and in need of an ice cream, stop by Meadowlark Dairy just off Main Street and witness this for yourself. And if you are in need of a piece of fabric, good luck.

Disclaimer: I am not an owner or anyhow affiliated with either establishment nor do I know the owners. I’m just a casual observer with an eye out for people doing amazing things. And, for a good ice cream cone.

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