Making Your Customers Brand Ambassadors

Further to my recent post about the awful customer service we received at our local pet supply store is this very interesting blog post from Social Media Today;

What happens during their initial experience—or with any experience along the path toward purchasing your product or service—makes all the difference between a possible brand ambassador, and a person whose face (and money) you’ll likely never see again.

Given this incontestable law of the jungle, I’m always amazed when I (or many people I know) experience poor customer service.

And just to be fair, I do tweet and blog about positive customer service experiences that I encounter. I am not, contrary to what it may seem, always a cranky or grumpy customer!




Chris Brogan on Customer Service

Nearly every morning I get an email from blogger extraordinaire, Chris Brogan . Sometimes I learn something and sometimes I just delete the message.

Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan

This morning I received an email that really made me sit up and pay attention because it was on issues I’m really interested in; customer service and shopping local.

Here is the opening to Chris Brogan’s piece;

I sat at the counter at my local restaurant the other day and waited for over 7 minutes without anyone bothering to acknowledge that I was there.

And then I walked out. And so did my money. For good. In fact, I drove to McDonalds, got some scrambled eggs and an iced coffee, and was in and out of the system within the same 7 minutes. (You can save your comments with disdain for McDonalds. If you’re a parent, you go there, unless you don’t. Either way. It’s not the point.)

Now, before you try to defend this other place, no, it wasn’t busy. Yes, at least two employees had seen me, and frankly, I don’t much care. If I had been even greeted, I would have been able to tolerate the wait. But not even a hello.

By comparison, the Ale House and the Barking Dog (both local places) have trained their entire staff to greet anyone they see walking in, and wish everyone walking out a great day. You feel warmly greeted there.

I so completely agree with Chris that I just had to share this post with you. 

Like Chris, I like good customer service. I’m not talking about someone kissing my a$$ to get me to shop in their store, I just expect people to treat me and my ideas with respect.

As most of you know, I love leather. Wallets, briefcases, satchels, belts, overnight bags and more.

So the fact is, in this age of the interwebz, everything is a “local place”. My friend, Roge at Bay Towne Leather is a guy who knows how to treat customers. He typically repsonds within a few hours when I email him questions about the leather products he makes and he is very open to trying to do things in new and creative ways. (I have a cool new wallet on order from him, my first foray into Horween leather). He tells me he is always learning from his customers.

Another shop I have been having a great time with is Marlondo Leather. Once again, he (Ma Londo is the owner) works in his small shop with a handful of other leather crafters. Ma is always open to doing things differently to make his customers happy. Of course he has his limits, but he, like Roge, is always willing to listen and learn.

The difference between these shops and many others I have tried to deal with is that the owners treat me, the customer with respect. I like that.

These shops may not shout out my name when I walk in the door of their shops but they certainly do know how to treat me, and all their customers with respect. If you are looking for a leather wallet or bag or briefcase, I encourage you to visit Ma or Roge. And let them know that I say hi.

More of My Why You Never Say No to a Customer

The following brief email exchange is one of the best examples of the worst examples (yes, a good example of a bad example) of sales skills I have seen in a long time.

Email from me,


Does Pearson sell a textbook for a Marketing 11/12 class curriculum? 

I will be teaching Marketing 11/12 and need a textbook. 

Can you help?


Here is the reply I received,

Hi Stacey,

I’m sorry, we don’t.

(sales-rep name removed by me, the editor, to avoid messy stuff)

  • Connected Inside Sales-School Division BC/MB   
  • For Customer Service: (a 1-800-style number)
  • Feel-good company motto here
  • Learn more at www…the company website.

So what is wrong with this email? Why is it a good example of a bad thing? Because this is what I, the customer is hearing from the sales rep, “NO, I cannot help you and I have no interest in trying to help you.”

A little background information; I will be teaching a seminar course on introductory social media marketing and I am looking for a textbook. I will need about 30 textbooks. As textbooks are typically $100 a pop, this is not an earth-shattering deal for the sales-rep, but it could have been a $3000 deal and the beginning of a profitable relationship between the bookseller and me. Instead, I am told “NO”.

Why did the sales rep not offer me an alternative? You know, “Have you considered this book…” or “Have you looked at our website to see what other similar books we do offer?”

Why did she not enquire more about what I needed? Why did she not try and build a relationship between her company and me?

It is interesting to note the contrast between her response and the sales rep from Nelson Publishing. I emailed both sales reps late yesterday evening. Sure the response discussed above was prompt, however, her competitor’s response was not only prompt, it was a personal visit to my office!

She arrived in my office this afternoon with a sample textbook, a teacher’s guide and a student workbook plus information on how I can obtain more copies and most importantly, a promise to help out in any way she can.

Let me add that in my email to her I did not state my office address or when I would be in my office. She took the initiative to find that information and to come to me offering multiple solutions.

Also, within an hour of her visit to my office she sent me a follow-up email with pricing and information about digital licenses for some texts.

Two ways of doing business. I know where I will go when I need textbooks. And it isn’t to someone who says no.

Customer Service Pet Peeve; Don’t Say NO to the Customer

One of the things that really annoys me is when I walk into a store and ask for something and the first response from the salesperson is, “No, we don’t have that.”

Typically if I hear that I say, “Thanks, well then I guess I will have to take my money somewhere else.”

The other day I needed some MSG-free veggie stock cubes. My Sweetheart has bought it from a local deli before so I felt pretty comfortable going into the deli and asking where it was kept on their shelves.

Her response? “We don’t sell that stuff.”

Instead of my standard reply, I said, “My Sweetheart was in here last week and bought some. She told me that in fact you do sell it here. She bought some here last week.”

Believe it or not she said to me, “Nope, we don’t sell that stuff and never have.”

I turned away from the “No-person” and asked another person working in the deli where they have the veggie stock cubes. She pointed to a shelf where there were no less than five different brands or bases (beef, chicken, lobster, veggie).

I then turned back to the first person and said, “So I guess we BOTH now know for sure that in fact this store DOES sell veggie stock.”


Urban Fare Suburban Style – Price Smart Foods

My dear friend and fellow blogger, Leeanne Ekland was tweeting and Facebooking (is that actually a verb now?) about the new Urban Fare False Creek store that opened in the Olympic Village this week and that got me to thinking about the differences between and urban and a suburban life.

You know Urban Fare? The store that sells coffee beans that some bird has eaten and then excreted, get collected up and turned into a gourmet coffee for urbanites everywhere? Or bread baked in France, flown overnight express to our city and sold by the slice as fresh bread (even though technically it is day old by the time it hits the store shelves).

Admittedly the photo of Leeanne Ekland’s grocery basket didn’t contain any coffee or day old bread, but it did contain organically grown raspberries, rice cakes and other delicious, healthy treats.

She also had a picture of a grinning Jimmy Pattison welcoming customers to his newest store.

Contrast that with the Pattison store in my neighbourhood…

Price Smart Foods
Price Smart Foods


The suburban stores are really nifty. Blindingly bright fluorescent lights that are on from early in the morning until long after midnight when the store on North Road near Lougheed Mall closes. Really sets the mood.

Inside the store you have a handful of young people jamming boxes of canned goods onto shelves and bread products that have been made in a factory in another part of Canada, trucked in and warmed right here in the store. Not quite as glamourous as flying bread in from France.

I did find a “specialty item” in the poultry section at Price Smart that I bet you cannot find at any Urban Fare – “fowl”.

Yep, “fowl”. A fresh bird that looks sort of like a large bony pigeon. When I asked an employee what “fowl” actually is, he told me that it is a chicken that was a layer-hen who met an early demise. He added that they are not good for roasting, really only good for making soup stock.

I have to admit, they are creepy looking birds. I do not recommend them. Even though the bird-poop coffee has made its way through the digestive system of another bird or monkey or something, it just seems easier on the eyes.

At any rate, when you want to leave Price Smart, well, you are on your own. Literally.

In the morning there are only self-checkout stands. There are no cashiers. Remember the good old days when you had someone ring in your grocery purchases and then ask if you wanted paper or plastic bags? And then they packed them in the bag of your choice?

Not here. Nope, in their quest for lower prices, Price Smart Foods has dispensed with cashiers. DIY-extreme grocery shopping.

The good thing is, there is a young lady standing nearby filing her finger nails and if you are like me and you make the computer system fail, she will stop filing her nails for a moment and will come sauntering over to tell you that you need to enter the code that is on the sticker on the bananas.

It is interesting how young people can find a voice of such disdain for us old-timers who are so uninformed (in their world view).

When I replied that there was in fact no sticker with a secret price code stencilled on it, she replied that the code was **** as if it was beyond ridiculous that I did not know this code.

And as you leave the store, the doors automatically open, a blast of hot air blasts into your face pushing all but the most extreme gel coated hair straight back and possibly out of your scalp. It sort of feels like you are being sanitized as you leave the store.

Yep, welcome to the suburban-style Urban Fare. A store where lower prices are paid for with the service that you can only dream about.



The flip side of customer service; the server experience

In response to yesterday’s post on the customer service experience, here is my friend Olly Dolly telling the server side of the story.

Imagine that you work in a restaurant. The hours are grueling, the bosses certifiable, the coworkers are diverse (and often crazy), and the customers….oh jeez, the customers. You work a triple shift most weekend days (brunch, lunch, and the dinner crowd) so you can pave your way to get out of the crazy service industry. Aside: I usually worked 18-hour days on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Sunday night rolls around and you get a call. Most self-respecting servers don’t have a cell phone because of this very call: “Can you please, please, please work for me tomorrow?” Ugh. Any excuse from any number of coworkers – nobody ever wants to work Mondays, especially those in the industry – my cat died, my grandma died, I have food poisoning (ie., drinking all of the weekend tips after service on Sunday), my cat died again, I have a call-back audition, etc. Mondays are brutal to those in the service industry. Tips suck. So do the customers. Why the customers? Chances are if they are out to get lunch on a Monday they are working. Chances are they are tired from the weekend and in a miserable state of mood. Not one server wants to be working for the public on a Monday. Those TGIFer customers are the worst on Mondays.

So hypothetical you replies, “Fine [insert big sigh] I’ll work for you, but you owe me”. Chances are you’ll never hear from that coworker again – such is the turnover in the industry. You crawl your weary butt and barking dogs (read, feet) into the restaurant.

It’s a pigsty. The chefs are in the back swearing at one another in the only way chefs know how and the remnants of the weekend are all over to be found. There are 6 messages on the voicemail. The CD player is skipping. Again. There are kegs to be changed. Coffee to be made. Chairs to be unstacked. Mats to unroll. Ice wells to be filled. Rat/mouse traps to dispose of. Tables to be set. Coffeespoons – those things are still a mystery – to be found. Features to be written up – if you can get between the swearing chefs. The supplies are limited because most orders come in on Monday afternoons at the earliest. And omg your feet are still killing you.

And then one of your favourite customers comes waltzing in and asks you for lunch for 15 people.


Not happening.

In customer service the answer is, “Sure we can help you”

And, we are back! I have been away working on a couple of social media campaigns so as you have hopefully noticed, I haven’t posted anything here over the last couple of weeks. Now I am back. And I am ready to blog about my favourite topic, customer service.

On February 17th another blogger I follow, Chris Brogan wrote a thing about customer service. Titled  Good Service is Like a Great Steak, that blog post got me to thinking about customer service.

When I walk into a store it is usually because I have a “problem” of some sort that I need help with. The problem might be that I need new socks or a new shirt. It might be that my nemesis, the Orange Cat has puked up a hairball on my silk comforter. Perhaps I go into Home Depot because the toilet upstairs will not flush and my shaving brush is missing.  You get the idea. I’m not the type of guy who shopping as a leisure activity. I want to go in, get my problem solved and then return to base. Military precision.

So when I go into a store I do not want to hear someone say “no” we can’t do that. I honestly do not believe that is asking too much. The answer should always be, “sure, we can help you”. Perhaps that help is helping me find a replacement thingy or it might be directing me to a different store. Customer service training should emphasize the fact that store or restaurant clerks should learn that “no” is never (okay, rarely) the answer.

A couple of weeks ago I organized a little workshop for a group. Of course me being the kind of guy who says, “Oh shit, you mean they are going to want to eat lunch too?” I didn’t plan a lunch. No problem, I’ve got my list of favourite places to go and munch out, why I’m sure they will be happy to make us a little lunch box to go. After all, what small business doesn’t want fifteen new customers dropping in for lunch on a slow Monday?

I send my intern down to the shop to let them know that in three hours we will be joining them for lunch and that if they want, we could order ahead of time to make their day go a bit smoother.

My intern returns and says the shop cannot and will not do it. He was told that if we want a lunch catered we need to provide 48 hours notice and pre-pay and…

My turn to go to my favourite little sandwich shop. I go in, the chef is head down into his food prep, scowling like crazy, the woman on the till is looking worried…I take a read on the situation and say in my super-friendly way, “We just wanted to order some sandwiches. We do not need you to cater our lunch. We wanted to let you know ahead of time that we would be in for lunch today.”

The chef says, “I can’t do it. I need to order ahead of time and you didn’t give me any notice and…”

I interrupt with my terse reply, “Its okay, I had no idea it would be a problem for you to serve us lunch. We can and will go somewhere else.” And then I left.

A short time later he phoned my office and told my intern that he could do the lunch under the condition that we had to accept the variety of sandwiches he made and we had to pick it up at 11:45am. No changes.

The stupid thing is, that is all we wanted from the beginning. I tell you, I still love his sandwiches but it will take a long while before I darken the frame of his door again. Yes, the sandwiches were good (actually amazing) but I when I am walking into your business  with a problem and a fist full of cash, I expect the answer to be “Sure we can help you.”


My Top Five Customer Service Wins in Kaua’i

This is my final blog post on our recent trip to the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. It is a look at some of the businesses that impressed me with the service or food they provide to their customers.

First on the list is the valet parking service at the Sheraton in Poi’pu.

The Sheraton
The Sheraton

These guys treated us with total respect and professionalism. They gave us the millionaire treatment every time we saw them. The Sheraton has done a great move in hiring top notch valet people.

Next on my list of top-hits is the drive-in called Duane’s Ono Char Burgers.

Ono Char Burger
Ono Char Burger



Absolutely the best tasting burger I have ever tasted. Bar none. Unbelievably delicious teriyaki burgers with cheddar cheese. Tops. Absolutely.

Next up for memorable people and service is, no surprise here, another foodie place, Chicken in a Barrel.

Chicken in a Barrel
Chicken in a Barrel


Barbecue chicken, pork and beef. Barbecued in a 45 gallon drum. How cool is that.

And the owners are the coolest people ever. On Christmas Day they served a full on turkey dinner to more than 400 people. For free. Tops again.

Next up is Nana’s Babysitting Service. On three of our days on Kaua’i we had booked a babysitting service. I am not comfortable leaving my little angels with people I do not know, however, from the minute that “Nanny Sharon” walked into our rented condo, I felt safe and comfortable. And perhaps more importantly, our girls were comfortable with Nanny Sharon. Tops. Absolutely.

Another hit for me was Naturally Birkenstock.

Naturally Birkenstock
Naturally Birkenstock

I went into this shop looking to buy a new pair of Birkenstocks or sandals of some sort because my Keen sandals were showing their age.

As it turns out, April Kaulukukui, the woman who owns the shop took one look at my Keens and told me that all I needed to do was replace the laces in my Keens and she then GAVE me a free pair of laces.

My Keens felt like brand new shoes with the new laces. 100% tops, super people.

Although we had countless positive experiences while visiting Kaua’i, the one not so positive experience was the fact that three of the four of us got sick on the second to last day of our trip. We had to check out of the Grand Hyatt at noon and our flight did not leave Kaua’i until 8pm. We needed somewhere to just rest and chill out.

The tiny little Garden Island Inn was where we found respite. They were very understanding of our situation and let us use a very comfortable room for the afternoon. We were able to rest and let our girls sleep in the afternoon while we waited for our plane to depart. Absolutely, 100% tops. Fabulously kind people.

As I said, we had many, many positive experiences while visiting Kaua’i. All the hotels we stayed at were welcoming. All the staffs were professional and helpful. All the food was delicious and all the beaches were fabulous. All the people were friendly and helpful. However, the Garden Island Inn, Naturally Birkenstock, Nanny Sharon, Chicken in a Barrel, the Sheraton valet crew and Duane’s Ono-Char Burger were the tops of the tops.


Customer Service Failure and Successes

Customer service is a tricky business. You’ve heard the funny store about the rookie store clerk getting trained. The manager says, “Rule number one is, the customer is always right. Rule two, if the customer is wrong, refer to rule number one.” Well I do not necessarily agree with that philosophy but I do understand where it comes from.

Just after Christmas time my Sweetheart’s mobile phone plan ended and a few weeks later mine did as well. Seeing as she is my Sweetheart, she gets what she wants, most of the time, anyway. She wanted an iPhone 4. So we visited every Bell store in the Metro area until we ended up in the Bell store in Lougheed Mall. The guy in the store added her name to a list for the following Tuesday when the iPhones were coming in. He also said that if we came in on Wednesday instead of Tuesday that he would be there and he could show us (her) how to use the fancy new iPhone. We agreed.

The following Wednesday we went to the store and they did have a new iPhone for her. He collected the money from us, showed us how to turn the phone on and then walked away so that he could chat with other staff members.

I said, “Hey dude, you said you would show us how to use this phone.”

“Sure, you just have to play around with it a little bit and you will get used to it.” And he returns to chat with his colleagues. Total and complete customer service fail.

I decided right there and then that even though I was going to be buying myself a new Bell smartphone I was not going to buy it from this loser.

Later that week I went out to the Bell Store in Coquitlam Centre where I met Ryan Mackenzie. Ryan took the time to discuss my many options for a new smartphone. Once I felt fully informed I decided on the Samsung Galaxy Vibrant.

Ryan then took the time to instruct me on nearly every aspect of the phone. He transfered my contacts and data from my Blackberry to my new Samsung, showed me how to set-up my email, access my email, Twitter, Facebook, and both my blogs. In short, he went above and beyond in his desire to make me a satisfied customer.

The end result of his exemplary customer service was that he created in me a customer who is much more loyal to Bell, his employer. And really what did it take for him to do this? A bit of his time. A bit of his time to make me a more loyal customer. That is what good customer service can do.