Jodi Wallace

Special Contributor

Customer service seems to have made a resurgence the last few years as times and business became tougher.     

Many shops that had become somewhat arrogant when business was booming and chose to sacrifice quality in favor of quantity were all of a sudden looking around as the economy was in free fall and wondering how to save their business. For many it was too late. 

For others, they took a deep breath, put their overblown egos back in check and realized that a business that does not take care of its customers is a business not in it for the long haul. It was time for a change and customer service once again became the mantra. 

At Monarch Solid Surface Designs I do not provide customer service. I provide customer care. Although many may see the words as interchangeable, I absolutely do not. 

Customer service is having the person in the grocery store being able to tell me what aisle to search to find my item. Customer care is the person that takes the time to stop what they are doing, escort me to the aisle, and help me find my item. 

Customer service is the server in the restaurant who makes sure you get your drinks, the right meal goes to the correct person, and your check is for the correct amount. Customer care is the server who, when I ask for water, asks if I would like lemon with that. 

It’s the person who brings extra napkins to the table without being asked because they know I will be wearing the messy burger I ordered down the front of my shirt, or the thoughtful server who walks up without being asked, with not only my check, but a doggie bag as well as they noticed I had not finished my meal.

For those of us of a certain age, we remember when customer care was the way the world revolved. Remember when going to the gas station meant a clean windshield and having your oil checked? Somewhere along the line of “progress” we came to think rudeness and thoughtlessness as acceptable traits– and in business, no less!  

I am always shocked when I walk into a place where the person “working,” (a term used very loosely!) is too busy texting to be bothered to help me, where you are treated as an inconvenience and please hurry up and go away, or when I walk around for what seems like forever and cannot find a single person to help me. Or my personal pet peeve – “That’s not my department.” As sad as it is say, the reason I notice customer care is because there is such a lack of it nowadays.

That is exactly why when I see or experience customer care I go out of my way to recognize it. As business owners we have dual personalities. The business owner side of us is the responsible person in charge of the success and reputation of our company. And then there is our evil twin, the working-hard-for-my-money-and-looking-for-service-now consumer.

I believe that recognizing and responding when you receive good customer care is important to not only us, but absolutely important to the person responsible for providing it. 

How many times has someone done something nice for us, looking for nothing in return and we thought, “I should mention this to someone,” but somehow we are always too busy, too tired, too stressed to take just a minute to recognize excellence? 

If someone goes out of his or her way to help me, I find the manager, owner, or person in charge. I do it right then, on the spot while it is fresh in my mind. And if I can’t find the correct person I need to speak with, I find a way to sneak in a few minutes, (not easy when you work 80-hour weeks) and track down the appropriate person in charge.  

If the person who provided me with customer care felt I was important enough to take the time to help me when they didn’t have to, I should be the type of person to pay it forward and let their supervisor or boss know how much their customer care was appreciated. In fact, I once waited 20 minutes to speak to a manager about the outstanding customer care I experienced, and I wasn’t even the person on the receiving end of it! 

A couple years ago I was deployed with the Red Cross to Colorado to assist running a shelter set up to handle evacuees from the Black Forest fire. One evening after a 12-hour shift, I wandered into a restaurant adjacent to the hotel where we were staying. 

The front of the restaurant where I was seated had a couple booths and a couple 2-person tables. As I was seated at one of the booths I noticed a very elderly couple who had just been seated before me. I was just starting to open my menu when something caught my eye.  

Although the young pony-tailed server had not stopped at their table just yet, she approached them with a tray containing two glasses of water, two coffee cups and saucers and a pot of coffee.     

She chatted with them as she poured and then left them to peruse the menus. When she came over to take my order, I reminded her they had not ordered yet. She just smiled and assured me it was fine. Three or four minutes after she had finished with me she wandered back over to their table.

“Alright,” she said addressing the elderly man by name, “are you ready to try something new yet or are we going with your regular?”  It was said in a teasing and somehow intimate way and he laughed as his wife smiled. 

I was close enough to hear what was going on but far enough away as to not appear too “snoopy.” The server came by several times before their entrées were brought over, once bringing extra napkins, once just stopping to check on their coffee and chat. 

After she served their meals, she must have come to check on them at least another three times, at one point looking around and taking a quick seat and whispering something that I couldn’t hear but made them all laugh. 

She then quickly hopped up and disappeared to the back of the restaurant. When it became evident they were done, she brought their bill, spending another short time talking with them, and then offered the elderly gentleman her arm to first help him, and then his wife up from the booth without being asked. Their conversation was casual and light, and it was evident she was very fond of them.

When I finished my meal I asked if the manager was available.  I was told she was busy but would be out. 

Twenty minutes later the manager finally appeared, somewhat apprehensive, obviously, as it is rare that anyone takes the time to say anything good nowadays. Isn’t it interesting that we will go out of our way to complain when we feel we have been treated badly, but cannot be bothered to take the same time to recognize when we have had someone provide outstanding customer care to us?

I explained to the manager that I owned a small business and what I had observed. I just wanted to let her know that that young lady represented her business in the best possible way and that was the type of employee we would all love to have. I told her I would definitely be back. And I did– twice–before I came back home. 

Customer service is something any competent business should be able to say they have. But a shop that focuses on customer care is a shop that is remembered by their customers. 

I have closed many jobs where I was several hundred dollars higher then another shop’s bid, but where the customer said they appreciated the personal and warm service they received, and the fact I took my time, not making them feel I was trying to get them to sign on the dotted line and out the door. 

Customer care is a conscious choice we choose to offer. One of my best moments was with a potential new customer who looked at me and said, “Talking with you is like talking to one of my girlfriends.” And yes, I definitely closed that job!

Business is picking up. We can all feel it all around us. The question is, will we have short-term memories and decide to once again choose quantity over quality and customer care, or will we remember that what goes up, will, again sometime in the future, come down when the economy has its next hiccup. 

But those shops that have invested in quality and thoughtfulness towards their customers, who practice customer care over just customer service, those are the businesses that when times get lean, customers will still want to support.

Jodi Wallace is co-owner of Monarch Solid Surface Designs in San Jose, California. Contact them at .