I popped into the local video shop the other day to rent an X-Box game for Our Kid only to find – Saturday evening – the one he wanted wasn't available.  As there were only 827 other options to choose from he declared loudly that nothing else was of the slightest interest and that was that.

I suggested he asked the guy behind the counter when "Raging Murderous Lunatics" would be back in at which point we discovered they had only one copy and it had been nicked!  That might have been that but he then proceeded to find out what the critical elements were – explosions, gangland warfare, blood etc – and then, with all the respect a 13 yr old wouldn't normally receive, he spent 10 minutes promoting a range of equally vile and violent games to him.

When, at the end of all this which would have been worth zilch to him in terms of commission, Our Kid says "nah, I just want Raging Murderous Lunatics" he smiled and said "not to worry, hope you'll find it somewhere else".

I was smiling to myself as we returned to the car.  Earlier that week I had planned to do business with another local company which was worth around €800 to the business and would have given the saleswoman a very generous commission and yet she did NOTHING to engage me or promote her range of products.

I spent well over an hour with her and while she was fairly curious about me (politically incorrect comment alert – small town Irish people can be horribly nosy and think nothing of asking you when your last bowel movement was), she didn't use any of the information I gave her to sell me on her product, didn't try creating any rapport, and, now I think about it, turned up late to our appointment,

I am just so delighted that in the end I found another solution that meant I didn't have to make a purchase from her.

Funny thing is I have met her before so I know she's a long-term professional 'saleswoman' in her industry while most people working in video shops (I imagine) don't see the job as a permanent career.

Complacency and arrogance are not good sales tactics and while I could have expected it from a young part-time employee, maybe a student earning extra cash on a Saturday evening, it's frankly irritating to get it from someone who is supposedly a professional.

Giving great customer service takes time and in a world of narrow margins and looming deadlines it can be a pain in the jacksie.

But it's better than the alternative, isn't it?

As a small business-owner I know I don't always get it right or get it quickly enough.  But as much as I can I try to over-deliver.  Three clients have recently told me "you go the extra mile" and that is just what I set out to do.

I once spent a happy few months working in the box office at Wembley Stadium (the original one) and regularly used to get into trouble with the manager for my figures.  Her screen would show her how many calls we were getting through in an hour and I was always bottom of the league.

Of course when it was sale day for a major band or sporting event it was wham bam, get your tickets and get off the line.  But when it was a regular day filled with anxious mothers wondering if little Kylie would be able to see the ice show if they sat in the fourth row or snooker fans hoping to get ringside seats for the Masters final, then it was good to build some rapport and goodwill.  I thought so anyway even if Christine didn't.

Customer service is one of my regular rants but I keep coming back to it.  What started me off actually was a Google search for a new laptop this morning and looking up a national retailer.  The top searches returned were all slagging off their customer service!  Well that's saved me a journey.

We know from the demise of so many big and medium-sized names in this recession that no business is safe any more.  So what do I want from the people I do business with?

  • Interest in what they're selling
  • Interest – just the right amount – in me
  • Their belief and evidence that their product is right for me
  • Some rapport (oh God, that's reminded me of a horrible Tesco employee who made my skin crawl the other day but don't get me started again)
  • Personality and people skills

That's enough to be going on with.  And it's not too much to ask – is it?

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