REMEMBER THAT CUSTOMER NO. 1 IS CLOSER TO HOME
By Dick Olenych, The Virginian-Pilot - 11/1/2009
I’M A BIT DIFFERENT than most people. I know it and here’s an example, but you have to promise not to tell my bride about this story, though, OK?
Years ago, when I started working at a big old company as a salesperson, I was Mr. Gung-ho. I was over the top. One example was that in order to make more customer time, I decided to train my body to get only four hours of sleep a night.
It didn’t quite work out the way I was hoping.
For a solid week, I went to bed at midnight and got up at 4. I was exhausted and babbling like a baby from sleep deprivation by Friday. I slept through the whole weekend. So much for my Einstein idea.
Back then, big companies had receptionists. They would answer the phones and write down every message. Do you remember those two-part pink message slips?
These ladies were like supercomputers. They would capture the person’s name, organization, number and a brief message. Way back then, there was no voice mail, let alone cell phones.
These very talented receptionists could work 10 or 15 lines and make it look like a walk in the park. Oh, and they also greeted all of the visitors to the lobby, including salespeople. They were amazing and unappreciated.
I was always fascinated with their skills. They could professionally handle an irate person on one line and immediately switch to a singsong tone for a new line.
Do companies still teach that skill today? What would we call that? Oh, I know – why don’t we call it customer service. Or maybe customer service without an attitude. I like that better.
In any case, this multitasking chameleon would hand me a stack of pink slips when I got back to the office. I would grab the stack and practically run to my desk to return the calls.
These slips were so important. They were from customers who, I hoped, wanted to buy something.
It was a thrill a second. I was always working to make my customers happy. But, the fact of the matter was, I really wasn’t that good at making all of my customers happy.
When I would get to a message from my wife, I’d slip hers behind the rest so I could make my real customers happy. I could always catch up with her later, maybe at home over a late dinner. After a year of this behavior, my wife finally asked me: “Dick, why don’t you ever return my calls?”
Her question crushed me. I decided then and there to treat my wife like she was my most important customer. She was put at the top of the stack as I navigated to my cubicle. We chatted every afternoon.
We still do.
Personally, I don’t think it hurt me that much talking to my wife first, ahead of the “other” customers, because I was usually the No. 1 rep. And after 23 years of marriage, I can honestly say I wouldn’t give her up for any customer.
I still work an enormous amount of hours. What small business owner doesn’t? I don’t think that will ever change. I like to work. I like creating. I like building things. Building things that will last a lifetime.
But between me and whoever might read this, please do not tell my wife that I treat her like a customer. She may not fully understand. But I suspect that she knows much more than she leads on.
I can honestly say that I truly do love my customers.
Dick Olenych is president of Spectrum Printing and author of the business book “Joe Sails.” Reach Dick Olenych at firstname.lastname@example.org.