How Lousy Service Kills Good Canadian Businesses

A few hours ago, I drove into a Costco gas station. Well, some of you know why we do Costco – it’s supposed to be cheaper! My Toyota Sienna looks like something from a mud car race. In winter when the combination of slush and snow obliterates every mark on a car, what you need most is a clean windscreen. But if you are watching your wallet like I do, buying a can of low-temperature windshield wiper every day could eat into your grocery budget.

The garage that protects our car from the elements have been faulty for a few weeks. We have applied to have it fixed, but we all know that the wheels of bureaucracy grinds very slowly. So we park outside – like everyone else. I jokingly tell my wife that its God’s training for us to learn to live our size.
So, after pushing and pulling in the appropriate cards, I was now happily feeding the hungry tank when I saw a Costco staff dressed in winter gear. I am very dark skinned and one way of ensuring that people notice me is to smile. So, I flashed my tooth and thanked his management for providing us cheaper gas. Then I chipped in that Costco customers would appreciate complimentary windshield wipers like other fuel stations. Without as much as returning my smile,

he retorted that it had nothing to do with him and that if I had any suggestions, I should make to ‘the guys at the office.’

All this while, he was walking away to his destination.

Was I shocked? Absolutely not. I guess I am used to crude service by front end staff even though I am looking forward to that place where I would be truly treated not as king in the era of democracy, but as a human being. Truth is, service here sucks and pardon my French.
I spent a year of my consultancy time training front-office staff on the true meaning of service excellence. Front office staff are the best PR managers of their organisations. The model for that training was the famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

I expected to find the model all over America, but sorry guys, it’s not here. Just weeks after arriving in Ottawa, I had to cancel my first appointment with a family doctor near my house because his secretary was anything but friendly. When her boss came out to see the commotion she had caused, he took her side. He told me it would not be in my best interest to register with him as my family doctor since I could not get along with his secretary. I have followed their progress since then, and I‘ve heard several other patients dread confronting that same lady.

Front-end staff are the best brand ambassadors of any successful organisation. If they buy into the brand with their courtesy and friendliness, the message quickly goes round. If they flunk it, all the advert money wouldn’t do the trick. It is sad to see famous brands hit town and fold up within months. Target has suffered that fate here. Could it have something to do with courtesy?

Big corporations spend billions on marketing every year, but it takes the insouciance of one front-end staff to plunge all that into the drain. Bad reputation is the best spoiler of good business. In an article justifying big advertisement bucks in Business Insider, writer Patricia Laya writes about General Motors’ mantra – “we all fall down”.

When businesses fail, it is not just the salaries of the employees that’s casualty, it is the chain of other businesses and lives who draw their livelihood from it. It beats me silly why a consumer shop which sells only to registered customers have sentries at their entrance checking membership cards! You cannot take a pin out without that card even if you have enough to buy the shop. So, why have unfriendly and often tired-looking people cherry-picking who they think wants in without cards?

I don’t know what they teach these days at sales school, but it is evident here that sales people hardly value their customers. Some shop clerks even redirect customers to where the goods sell cheaper rather than make an effort to sell their own brand! If I employed such people, they wouldn’t last a day. They are not brand ambassadors.

Employees must understand that the survival of the business is linked to their own survival.

If you kill the job with your snobbishness, you are not just a brand murderer but a vicarious murderer too.

Yes, CEO’s go undercover, but they need to spend some of that marketing and advertisement cash on training their staff on courtesy and friendliness. Courtesy and friendliness are the best advertisement needed for the survival of any enterprise.


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