Column: Still searching for the lost art of customer service


Customer service. It’s an area where we could all probably use a little more work or some improvement. Myself included. I still shudder a little when someone is left on hold for too long.

At a previous job, the whole staff took part in customer service training. It was quite beneficial – how to deal with people when you had to put them on hold, how you handled a less-than-pleasant situation if one happened to rear its ugly head, etc.

I’ve carried what I remember of that training with me these 32 years I’ve been on the job, as of Saturday. But like all good things, the old memory tends to slip a little each year.

When I first moved to the Hub City and was learning my way around, I traveled downtown to a business I had heard about that piqued my interest. So, on a Saturday, I headed east, found a parking place and went in. There might have been one other customer in the store besides myself, the owner and a couple of staff members. I wandered around the store perusing a variety of different items waiting for someone to acknowledge my existence. They never did. It was like I was invisible. When I realized I wasn’t worth their time, I left, never to darken their door to this day.

 It’s kind of like that scene in the movie Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts couldn’t get the snooty women in the store on Rodeo Drive to wait on her until she flaunted her money and went on a huge shopping spree elsewhere.

While I don’t have money to flaunt, I do like to make purchases and buy pretty and unique things. It was their loss.

Fast forward 14 or so years.

I recently had a business representative come to my house to give me a quote on some work I was considering. I’d been talking about it for a couple of years and had even made a call back when I first moved into this house four years ago, but never followed through.

I had initially called this company, because I knew someone who worked there and that made me feel better about the business, even though they are very reputable with offices across the country.

I made an appointment with a representative who told me it would take about an hour, which was surprising since I felt there wasn’t a whole lot to be done other than some measuring and a little conversation about the end result.

But the representative had a complete presentation ready for me on his computer. It gave the company’s history, the training the staff continues year in and year out, the safety measures they take, the options I could consider, etc. Very professional and thorough. It wrapped up with the quote.

I’ll admit, it was about twice what had been suggested by others who I had talked with – not professionals in the same business, but my Realtor, who also builds houses, etc.

I told the representative I’d check with the bank and see what I might work out before making a final decision. He told me not once, but two or three times, he’d get with me the following week.

To this day, I still haven’t heard from him. Granted, I didn’t call him either, but I didn’t feel like that was MY job. It was surprising after all the trouble he’d gone through to tell me everything about the company and the customer service they would provide that I’d never hear from him again, whether he thought I was a potential customer or not.

It’s OK. I’m not mad or angry; I guess more surprised and baffled, if anything. While he was a fill-in for the normal representative for this area, he still should have checked back. He didn’t have to call. He could have emailed me. That would have been fine.

Would I consider doing business with them if I decided to go forward with the work? Possibly, but there’s also a strong possibility that I might reach out to somebody else for a quote, which I would have probably done anyhow.

I’ve learned it’s sometimes the smallest things that make the biggest difference. It’s all in how you treat someone that really matters – in business or in life.


Beth Bunch is managing editor for The Hattiesburg Post, The Lamar Times, The Petal News and sister publication Signature Magazine. When she’s not at work or at home working in her yard, you’ll probably find her exercising a little retail therapy.