Monday, July 6, 2009

The Art of Running a Small Business

The Dusenberry Diary: Who Needs Customers Like This?!

July 2, 2009, 4:18 pm
By Jay Goltz

Debbie Dusenberry had an irate customer call her Curious Sofa store recently. The customer had called previously to get a price on some furniture and she said no one called her back.

To the customer, that was bad enough. But, what bothered her even more was reading about Ms. Dusenberry and her wonderful store in magazines and newspapers. When the customer called back again and asked for the owner, she was told that Ms. Dusenberry was at a photo shoot.

Ms. Dusenberry eventually returned the call, and when she did, she got an earful. Probably three earfuls. Being the professional that she is, Ms. Dusenberry apologized, groveled, and apologized some more. She must have handled it well because the customer calmed down and actually apologized to Ms. Dusenberry at the end.

When you are in business for yourself, it is hard not to take things personally.

There is no other department that you can point the finger at. There’s no misguided policy you can blame that you did not make up yourself. Feeling stressed by the economic environment we’re all confronting, Ms. Dusenberry went onto the by-invitation-only blog she writes for fellow retailers to vent her frustration. She related the situation and how she’d handled it. Many other retailers offered their support and guidance.

While Ms. Dusenberry had taken responsibility and handled the situation very well, other retailers made it clear that they believed the customer was out of line. Egged on, even Ms. Dusenberry commented that maybe she should have told the customer to get lost. One retailer asked the question, “Who needs customers like that?”

My response: I sure do. And you do, too.

Here’s how I view it: The customer was upset, and she probably went overboard. But she apologized. What more could you want?

This customer who goes to the trouble of complaining is far more valuable than the customer who gets upset but never says anything — and never comes back.

All business people want respect.

We all want customers who are polite, forgiving, and in a good mood. Good luck with that. I’ve learned to live with their just being customers. The rest is a bonus.

I’ve come to understand that customers have bad days, and I give them the benefit of doubt. Maybe they just lost their job, have a loved one in the hospital or 100 other things that can bring out the worst in a person. I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up in my father’s dime store, where I was nursed on giving “customer service” before it had a name. I never saw my father or grandfather fight with a customer.

This is not personal.

This is business. Businesses need to sell things.Don’t get me wrong: I take personal pride in selling great merchandise and giving wonderful service. I also take pride in paying the bills. It is much easier when you have customers. If the other retailers are happy with how much money they make, fine. They can get rid of all the customers they want! I’d rather keep as many as I can. Call me crazy.

Yes, I agree that there is a point where “customer service” becomes selling your soul. Customers, for example, who try to return something to a store that they did not buy it from are pretty much shoplifting. I get it. This is not easy. There certainly is a point where you have to say no.

But our most valuable resource is time — and the ability to focus. Getting bent out of shape takes a lot of time and energy.

I do have an advantage over many people. I have been doing this for 31 years. Groveling is a lost art form. For many, so is staying in business.


Jay Goltz owns three small businesses in Chicago: Chicago Artists' Frame Service, Chicago Art Source, and Jayson Home and Garden.