02 Customer serviceMy wife came home from one of her fun shopping excursions a couple weeks ago. Except this one really wasn’t much fun. She was frustrated. It seems her very favorite store, Belk’s, which used to provide friendly, helpful and courteous service, has morphed into a hollow catacomb of apathy. Imagine, a retail company that depends on selling merchandise with no one present to answer questions, no one available to assist you and no one around to sell you anything.

We hear constantly that the internet is destroying brick-and-mortar businesses. I believe that – but only the ones that don’t provide excellent and genuine customer service.

The term “good customer service” has almost become cliché in a world where almost anything and everything can be acquired online, void of any personal contact. It’s convenient and hassle-free without any pre-conceived expectation of service or human interaction. Order anything and it is conveniently delivered to your door. A car, your next meal, customfitted clothing, auto parts, dentures, flowers, sporting goods, printed materials, wine – the list is endless.

This being the world we live in, if you are a business owner or have entrepreneurial aspirations, you must come to understand, respect and master the major defining factor for success ... good customer service. It is a simple concept so easy to implement yet so easily ignored, underemployed and misunderstood.

So, why write about it? Because it defines us.

A few weeks ago, I rejoiced at the fact that the Applebee’s on Raeford Road closed. For nearly two years it provided Fayetteville with the worst customer service experience ever – despite elaborate, fun-filled, appetizing TV commercials.

Why should I care? Why should we all care? Poor customer service has a negative effect on all those who experience it. For years, this Applebee’s has defined our community in the most horrendous and un-complimentary way. If Applebee’s had been a privately-owned restaurant, it would have been out of business in two months, not two years.

Customer service is the lifeblood and major economic driver of a successful business. Yet it is too often ignored, and locally, dozens and dozens of business owners are struggling to survive and stay open when all they have to do is focus on and provide good customer service.

Unfortunately, many of them instead search for a quick fix or some magic formula or silver bullet that will make them profitable and successful overnight. Some spend thousands of dollars in advertising, marketing and ill-fated promotions in a desperate attempt to prop up their business. If they focused first on providing the best customer care possible, those other efforts might actually produce some results.

This holds true with organizations and even governments. Just think how smoothly government would run if leaders focused on customer service and making policies and procedures less complicated, allowing bureaucrats to make decisions that put the clients first and foremost.

Fayetteville is a growing community and a wonderful town where Southern traditions and a Southern way of life prevail. Service and Southern hospitality should always be at the top of our agenda. This is the surest, easiest and least expensive way to guarantee success and prosperity while defining our community’s true friendly spirit.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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