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What Friends Are For

Developing employees that show their concern for customers

It was a dark and stormy night.  The bad weather came from the east very quickly.   For a two-hour period we had winds of 77 mph.  The rain was so strong you could not see more than 20 feet outside the front door of the store.

As the storm subsided, three customers came into the store to purchase rolls of plastic to repair damaged roofs.   First, a young man came in, followed in a short time by two young women, who requested roofing nails in addition to the plastic.  The employee explained that roofing nails would not adequately hold the plastic.  He said lumber would hold it, but that he did not sell the appropriate type for the job.

His solution was to gather two handfuls of yardsticks from the tool department.  The yard sticks, priced at 49 cents each, had the store name and the name of the brand of paint sold, imprinted on them.  They often give them away to customers making paint purchases.  In this case, it looked like the store was giving away about $40 worth of product.

The employee explained to the ladies how to use the nails and yard sticks to secure the plastic.  He told the customer they would be in the store 30 minutes after closing and to call if they needed more supplies.  As he helped them load their car, he asked if they needed batteries, flashlights or cooking fuel.  He even offered to loan them our wholesaler’s tote boxes if they needed to gather personal belongings.  The ladies expressed their appreciation and left.

What appeared to be the end of a story continued the next morning.  A man came into the store looking for the owner.  Many stores have customers like this; you might only know a first name, but you recognize the face - a worn and tired face in this case.  He had shopped in the store for several years.

The customer approached with his right hand extended to shake hands.  “Thanks so much for helping us”, he said.  “It meant a lot and is much appreciated.”

The first response was, “You are welcome, but what did we do?”  The surprising answer was that it was his house that had lost the roof the night before.  The plastic and the free yardsticks had done their job.  But the free yardsticks and the advice had made such an impression that he came in person to tell the owner.  They discussed the storm, and then the customer explained his family was going to be staying in an apartment for the next three months while a contractor was rebuilding the house.  His parting remark was that he was going to miss the store, and that not having a need to personally come here for a while would be one of the drawbacks of his predicament. 

This is a customer for keeps.  He has shopped in the store for years, but now he is really a customer.  What was probably a cost for $15 for the yardsticks, and taking the time to give good advice, had cemented a relationship.  And of course, the owner expects the customer will talk about his experience to his friends and neighbors.

The store has a monthly newsletter that detailed the efforts of their employees during this storm.  They wanted to recognize the efforts of those who moved merchandise to the floor, those who fixed flashlights for customers, and in particular the office supervisor who worked the register so the store could have more personnel on the sales floor.

Large corporations use the word “empowerment” to describe this type of on-the-spot decision making among employees.  This owner simply states that they hired their employees because of their intelligence.  The owner expects, and trusts the employees to make decisions that will help customers while they also mind the store.

When the owner met with the employee who had handled the situation with the yardsticks, he told him how appreciative the customer was.  The employee response was that he told the customer as he was loading her car, “If we don’t take care of the customers who come into our store, what good are we?  That’s what friends are for.”

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179