Getting customer service

Last weekend I found myself shopping for a birthday gift for a hard-to-shop-for relative. The party invite was somewhat last-minute so I turned to the tried-and-true method of heading to a bookstore. Sure the idea of a gift-card crossed my mind but I was bent on actually trying to buy something that fit the recipient. Knowing that the birthday gal owned a coffee table or two, I spied a National Geographic coffee table book of nature photographs at the local Borders that seemed to fit the occasion. Since I was heading straight to the party from the store, I waited on line with the intent of having the book gift-wrapped. I smiled confidently at how smoothly things were going so much so that I thought to myself “I might even get to the party on time.” Of course, that hope was eventually dashed as the time spent waiting on line began to drag on. As it turns out, there was but one cashier behind the counter. As the line began to snake around the rope-maze, the people behind me grew increasingly impatient. Not surprisingly, I began to wonder whether or not I should even ask about the gift-wrapping, lest the angry mob run me out of the store.

My turn finally arrived and to my dismay there was still no additional cashier on the scene. Being desperate, I (very) quietly asked if it was at all possible to have the booked gift-wrapped, all the while apologizing and saying things like “..but I totally understand if you can’t since this line’s so long…” then finally asking the cashier if she knew of a nearby card store where I could by a gift bag. At that moment a young woman who was behind me on the line spoke up and said to the cashier “I can do it for him if you can just call a manager to do the employee purchase.” As it turns out, the young woman behind me was an off-duty employee waiting to purchase something and simply decided to pitch in.

“Hello sir, this is Paula, who will wrap your gift for you,” said the now-arriving and much-needed second cashier. And by now you can figure out how the story ends. An off-duty employee (who also happened to be waiting patiently on line), simply decided to pitch in and go just a little bit above and beyond. To her it seemed kind of trivial but I can’t help but wonder if she realizes how rare such seemingly fundamental instincts are in the service industry. Being a small-business owner whose very survival depends on good customer service, I know first-hand how important such instincts are. Having seen things from both the customer and service-provider standpoint, I can attest to seeing more than my share of apathetic “on-duty” service personnel. Paula, it seems is different than these. Sure, in this economy, one might be inclined to shrug off such behavior as employee “survival instincts” during tough times, but I truly think this was just something that came natural (especially considering that she appeared to me to either be a student or at the very least young enough to not be worrying about her Borders retirement package). So here’s to Paula and others like her. May your efforts not go unnoticed.

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