How customer service can help (or hurt) your business

It seems everyone agrees that good customer service is imperative to the success of a business and that poor customer service can be the death of that same business.  Thousands of books, hundreds of thousands of articles and even more blog posts have been written on the subject…so I thought I’d add another just for good measure.

People often say “the customer is always right.”  Really?  They say that out loud?  I’m a customer quite often and it doesn’t make me right.  It does, however, make me the customer and that matters.  My philosophy is more simple –

The Customer may not always be right, but IS always the customer and deserves to be treated as such.

Does it really matter who is ‘right’ in a situation?  The answer is an emphatic NO.  What matters is that you as a business operator express a genuine interest in trying to learn what the client wants (and more importantly what that client needs) and that you have a sincere desire to help them achieve it.  When I’m the customer, I don’t expect to always get what I want.  I do expect that whomever I am dealing with will care enough to find out what is important to me and to at least try to help me accomplish that objective.

So does it really matter?  You tell me.

Many years ago, I met a guy named Gary Farber at a NANPA conference (North American Nature Photography Association) in Portland, Oregon.  He runs and was at a trade show during the conference.  I spoke to him for maybe 10-minutes tops.  I was happy with the camera store I used in Indiana at the time, so really had no need to call Gary.

A few years went by and I was in Fort Myers, FL on my way to Key West.  I planned to do a lot of shooting in the Keys, but had a camera bag stolen the night before heading down.  The bag had a Canon 1D-MarkII camera body, several lenses, etc…about $12,000 in total.  It shouldn’t be hard to see the problem here!

As soon as the police left, I called my camera folks in Indiana.  They said “We can send you the lenses, but not the camera body.  We have them right here, but they are on allocation and there is a waiting list.”  That model camera was the latest Canon wonder-camera and it was in demand.  I understood, but was in a serious bind and needed help.  I plead my case, but their answer was “I wish we could help, but we can’t.”

Mistake #1 – lying to the customer.

This camera store (with whom I had spent well over $30k) just lied to me.  They said “we can’t” when, in fact, the reality was ‘they won’t.’  I may not like a decision that a company makes, but will probably get over it.  When they lie…we are done.  And so ended a multi-year and tens of thousands of dollars relationship.  All because of a lie (I gave them several opportunities to back out of it) and also the fact that there was no offer of help whatsoever in spite of the fact that a long-standing solid customer of theirs was in a major bind.

Enter Gary (stage right).

I had no idea where to turn, so I called Hunt’s.  By chance, Gary answered the phone and when I said my name he replied “from Indiana right.”  Wow…I had not spoken to him in a few years and he remembered that?  I explained what happened and he simply said, “give me a list of everything that was stolen.”  I did and he promised to call me back in 10-minutes.

When he called back, Gary said “I’ve got it all.  Where will you be Monday morning?”  It was Saturday at that point, so I gave him the address of the marina I would be at by around 11am on Monday morning.

I arrived at the marina and found a huge box at the Harbor Master’s office from Gary.  Everything was inside and the batteries were charged for the camera.  All I had to do was take things out of their individual boxes, put them in my new camera bag and start shooting.  Gary had come through with flying colors!

With one phone call, Gary had instantly earned my loyalty for years to come.  He was able to pull a 1D-MarkII out of allocation to get me going, but more importantly, he actually seemed to care about helping me.  A far cry from the complete lack of empathy from my long-time supplier.  Oh, and up to that point, I had never purchased anything at all from Gary.

Since that day, I have not spent a dime with the Indiana camera store I had shopped with so much before.  I’ve been a loyal customer of Hunt’s and have told this story to as many people as I could in order to help Gary build his clientele.  Not that he needs it, but I always want to help ‘the good guys’ when I can and Gary is among the best.

This all happened on October 2, 2004.  It is now nearly 10-years later and I’m posting my very first blog post about the impact of the Indiana store’s poor customer service and the impact of Gary’s outstanding customer service.

So do you think customer service matters now?  Let me know what you think and please call Gary Farber before you make another photo or video purchase.  Great customer service deserves to be rewarded.  While you are at it, try to seize moments like this when you can in your own business.  Sometimes it isn’t about a policy, but about doing what is right.


Contact info:

Gary Farber

Hunt’s Photo and Video

(781) 462-2332 direct number

(800) 221-1830 main store number


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