When my sister arrived from New York recently one of the first stories she told me was about the rude behaviour of the staff at an airline counter at LaGuardia airport.
She said that several passengers, also known as customers, had muttered to each other about how little they enjoy being barked at.
The evening before my sister arrived I got my haircut. I raved to my husband about what a pleasure it is to visit this hairdresser.
One of the co-owners told me that everyone who works there treats each customer like his or her own, even if the customer is seeing someone else at the salon.
Good and bad customer service stories are told among friends and family and can be terrific or terrible marketing for the businesses discussed. The stories share a common theme: the friendliness or unfriendliness of the people interacting with the customer.
It is the seemingly little things that matter. How much does it cost to smile?
One of my colleagues likes to say that "selling is the transfer of enthusiasm." When customers are made to feel they are a nuisance, what gets transferred is disappointment, frustration and sometimes anger. Repeat business is much less likely. But a little consideration and kindness can elicit a rave review.
One of my favourite observations on the importance of customer service is from Mahatma Gandhi: "A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so."
Many small businesses take this to heart and deliver great customer service. The restaurant owner who comes to your table with a big smile to ask with genuine interest how you are enjoying your meal sets a great example for everyone working there.
A strong customer service culture would certainly improve the relation-ship between individuals and government as well. Whether it's dealing with Canada Revenue Agency or the local city hall, customers are too often made to feel like outsiders or interruptions.
How many government departments and agencies even see dealings with citizens as customer interactions? When was the last time the manager of a front-line government employee asked you how the service was?
In tougher economic times, one resource that remains available to everybody is the cultivation of kinder, friendlier relationships.
Smiling spreads happiness. It's good for business, too.
Laura Jones is executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org