The Lite Side November/December 2019

Listen to the Silence

By Lyle R. Hill

As much as it hurts to admit, I am, like most of you, a true creature of habit, a rut dweller, “Mr. Vanilla.” So it was that day after day, week after week, my morning routine hardly ever varied.
I would pull up to the speaker box at a local fast food drivethrough restaurant expecting to hear a pleasant “good morning.” Instead, a semi-agitated and often surly voice would boom a cursory, “May I take your order?”
“Yes, a medium coffee with one cream,” I would answer daily.
Sadly, what I ordered had little relationship to what I would receive. Some mornings I received a large coffee with five or six creamers. Sometimes it was a small coffee with one sugar. Often, my simple order took forever to fill because of complications with the car ahead of me. For any number of reasons, my simple order was mis-filled at least 50% of the time! And the service was neither friendly nor efficient.Often, the simple order took eight to ten minutes. And apparently, whoever had trained the people who worked the drive-up window had never discussed the concepts of making eye contact with the customer or simply thanking them for their business.
Rut dwellers do not make changes easily, so I kept going back. Day after day. Week after week. After all, the place was on my way, it had the cheapest coffee in town, and I didn’t have to inconvenience myself by getting out of the car. After several months of this ridiculously inefficient service, I finally stopped going back.
Ultimately, I found a friendlier, more efficient supplier for my morning coffee. The new place was a little more expensive, and I had to get out of my car to go inside to get the order filled. But being the creature of habit that I am, it’s now been nearly three years of constant patronage to the newer, better supplier of the goods and services I desired all the while. Herein is perhaps a lesson for us all.
Companies become rut dwellers, too. They feel they can live on their reputation or their low prices or convenience factors. Few, if any, of the customers they lose will ever call or write or stop by in person to say why they’re transferring their business to a competitor. Most often, they will be nice, decent people who no longer feel that they’re being treated properly. They just won’t feel that their business means anything one way or the other.
Most of these now ex-customers won’t complain because they really don’t want to make a  scene. They, like most of us, already have enough conflicts in their lives. They’re the nice,  compliant, soft-spoken customer. They’ll put up with lousy service once, maybe even twice, and they won’t complain because they feel it would not do them any good. They also  know they won’t receive poor service from you again because they know they’re not coming back again—no matter how convenient or inexpensive you are!
What’s perhaps most surprising of all is the fact that many businesses that regularly lose customers because of poor service are the first to tell you that they pride themselves on their reputations for customer satisfaction.
So, if this is a real life situation, and I certainly believe it is, how do you avoid it? How can you hear what isn’t being said? Very simple … ask. Become pro-active instead of reactive. Customer response cards or even better, customer post-service calls are a good place to start. Having friends pose as customers and reporting back to you on how well they were treated isn’t a bad idea either. You might also want to ask whether or not a customer is a repeat customer. Repeat customers can be an incredibly good sign of how you’re performing. For new customers, ask who did their last job? What brought them to you in the first place? Would they recommend you to a friend or relative? You can’t get an answer to a question that is never asked. The ways in which we do business have changed dramatically over the years, but people have not. They still want to be treated in a friendly, honest and fair manner.
So whatever it takes, talk to your customers. And always remember, if you don’t ask, you’ll probably never hear or know, and even worse, you may never see them again.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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