Sunday, November 27, 2005

Closing Time

While visiting my son in Chicago, I went to a Cingular wireless store in his neighborhood to get some help with his phone. The store I walked into was closing in 5 minutes. I was welcomed into the store like a long lost friend. I explained what I needed (which took a lot of ingenuity and patience) The customer service representative was amazing. He figured out how to fix the problem. This was NOT a quick fix at all. He needed to remove a sim card from his telephone and put it my son’s phone and then switch it back again. This took a few switches to get it right. All the time he was smiling and chatting. It was now 15 minutes after closing and I was feeling guilty. After all I hadn’t bought my phone from this store, nor was it likely that I would in the future. When I said “Thanks, but I can see I am keeping you from closing up and going home.” He let me know that closing time was when everyone in the store had their issues resolved. WOW!!! And he meant it! We stayed there for at least 30 minutes past closing time. And I wasn’t the only customer still there. His manager was setting up an account for another customer. Again, he was smiling and perfectly happy to be helping his customer. So what impact did that have on me and how I viewed Cingular? Simply put it made me want to buy from this store specifically, but it had a more global impact. It made me glad that I was a Cingular customer (not something that I always feel.)

Two days ago I had a very different experience. I went into a store that was part of a chain. It was 6:57 and the store closed at 7:00.There were four other customers in line. I was greeted with “We are closed now! You have to leave!” “WHAT???” I thought. I still have 3 minutes time left. The manager explained that when they were through “dealing” with the customers that were already in que that it would put them PAST their closing time. So even though the store was “technically” still open, the existing customers would make it so an additional customer would throw them past the time they could go home.

Was this a reasonable rule? Perhaps, it would be considered reasonable if you were an employee-centric business. I am not sure however you can grow a business being employee-centric in THIS manner. As a customer I would be more understanding if you said to me; “I am so sorry, my kid is sick and I have to get home to take care of him.” Then I have the choice of being generous and saying “no problem.” But telling me to leave was simply enforcing a rule for rules sake. It said to me that as your customer I have no value. Believe me I left there with the intention of NEVER coming back!

Walking into a business a few minutes before closing time will give you great insight into how much you are valued as a customer and a human being.

But of course you know I am going to challenge you to look at the messages you give your customers. How do you act when your customers come in at the last minute? If you want to keep them coming back and telling their friends and family about you, you need to welcome your customers whenever they arrive at your business.