Customer Service: Ham Hocks and Ice Cream

Recent Customer Service Experiences

Otto's Sausage

Otto's Founders

I truly appreciate good customer service and reward it when received.  Unfortunately, I don’t receive it very often, which seems to be the norm these days.  I don’t know if this is because business owners don’t understand the value of a customer or they don’t really understand the concept of business.

What follows is a description of last Saturday afternoon when my husband and I experienced the two the two extremes of customer service.

We had some time on our hands and decided to visit an old neighborhood where we once lived.  There is a  popular, privately owned sausage shop called Otto’s in this neighborhood that has been in business since 1928. It grills its own dogs and sausages on a pit outside creating BBQ aromas for the entire neighborhood.  We finished our dogs and decide to pick-up some smoked ham hocks for lentil soup later in the week.  A young guy asks if he can help.  I look up and he’s smiling, smiling big.  I meet Smiley’s smile with one of my own and a request for a small ham hock.  He fishes around and pulls out one he thinks is the smallest of the bunch.  It’s two pounds.  “We don’t need one that big”, I explain.  “Not a problem.  I’ll cut it up for you”, say’s Smiley.  Solution found.

We trade some chit chat with Smiley.  As he hacksaws away at our ham hock under my husband’s supervision, I continue to peruse some of the other delicacies in the cases.  There are perhaps four other people behind the meat counter all busy doing various things.  One of them, sees me, stops what he is doing and offers to help me.  I explain I’m already being helped and thank him.  At check out and with our chiseled ham hocks in hand, we have a pleasant conversation about the warming weather with the check out lady.

After a few more stops in the old neighborhood, my husband suggests visiting another neighborhood favorite, Dairy Queen (DQ).  So we pull up to the Dairy Queen and step up to the counter.  We wait.  There is one car in the drive through waiting for an order.  One person in the sit-down area eating and us waiting for service at the counter.  Behind the counter there are three people.  The owner, his wife in the kitchen and one employee managing the drive through order.  We continue to wait.  No one says anything to us.  The owner, standing about three feet from us, is busy making a Blizzard for the drive through order.  He deliberately avoids eye contact so he isn’t interrupted making the Blizzard.

My husband and I look at each other.  We give the owner another couple of minutes to acknowledge us.  He mutters nothing.  We leave.  Not a word was spoken.  No business was transacted.  No money or service exchanged hands.  We left.  The possibility we will ever return is extremely remote.

Does Customer Service make a difference?

You betcha!  Our DQ experience was the complete antithesis of our Otto’s experience.  These two extremes tell me and should tell every business person that customer service defines business success or failure.

Otto’s management understands that the value of a customer is not in one, single transaction but in their ability to keep me as a repeat customer.  The DQ  owner is clueless about this concept.

Otto’s places an emphasis on customer service with all of its employees, because everyone was willing to stop what they were doing to service a customer.  Meanwhile, the DQ owner focuses on making a $2.69 Blizzard.

Otto’s will continue for another eighty years, while the DQ operation will probably have new management by summer or it will just disappear.

Good customer service shouldn’t be a challenge for a business person.  it doesn’t require expensive customer service training.  What I experienced at Otto’s was not extraordinary effort.  It was pretty low key, yet a friendly and helpful level of customer service.  It was basic common courtesy.  As a result, we will continue to travel out of our way to visit Otto’s – not only because they have great products, but most importantly because they demonstrate they value us as customers.  While the owner of the DQ will never, ever see us again.

It should also be noted that the best marketing in the world, won’t make up for lousy customer service.

How’s your customer service? 

Do you and  your staff realize the short and long-term value of good customer service?

Is your customer experience consistent across all of the customer touch points – from the telephone, to the sales person, to check out?

What grade do you think your customers would give you, your staff for service?

You need to know the answers to these questions.  The answers matter and will define the success of your business for a very long time.

Ham hocks anyone?


Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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