I wrote a tip check out this morning to the woman who delivers my Wall Street Journal. Although I’m billed directly for my subscription, she often includes an empty envelope with my paper — the message being, “You owe me a tip, honey.” I hate these empty envelopes and the implied directive.
I don’t get a thank you note with the envelope — something along the lines of “Thank you for being my customer.” Nor do I get exceptional customer service as she drops the newspaper at the edge of my driveway and the road. If I don’t get out there early enough to retrieve it, it gets stolen.
So I write these checks for tips with a lot of resentment, but I do it because I know delivering newspapers before the crack of dawn, rain or snow, is not an easy job.
Writing the tip check this morning made me realize that I’ve learned a great deal about excellent customer service over the years, starting with my first job at age 11, which was delivering newspapers. And it’s this service — or perhaps outlook is a better word — that has allowed me to grow my business and work with some really cool clients.
1. Always aim for excellence
Right around the time Title IX went through, the local newspaper in my hometown began “allowing” girls to deliver the daily rag. You had to be 11 years old to snag a gig. I signed up right after I turned 11 and began delivering 76 newspapers six days a week. I’d get up at 4:30 AM, fold and bag my papers and deliver them before the deadline of 7:00 AM. Yes, I did this via bike — and I did it rain or shine.
I learned a great deal about customer service delivering the newspaper. The first month I collected the fee for delivering the paper from my customers, I learned that people would give me $.25, $.50 or even a $1.00 tip for getting their newspaper on the porch. Wow! I made sure that *everyone’s* newspaper made it on the porch — every single morning — whether or not they gave me a tip. (Got pretty good at aiming / throwing, too.)
2. Remain calm while under duress
My first “real” job was at a flower shop, which I started right after I got my work permit at age 16. When you deal with people — both customers and your boss — crap sometimes happens. The woman who owned the flower shop had real mental problems (which took me a bit to figure out).
On Valentine’s Day she decided to go home and left me in charge. The only problem was, she hadn’t purchased enough stock. By 4:30 that afternoon, we had sold out of roses.
By 5:30 PM, I had a line of angry men that went out the door. They wanted their flowers and here I was, by myself, trying to wrap suitable but not really suitable flowers plus ring up sales. I remember smiling at each and every man and thanking him for his business, even though some were really rude.
The next day one of the men came back and asked me to come work for him at his business. He said anyone who could handle that much pressure without cracking had to be good. I’ve never forgotten that and have used that lesson in all of my jobs.
3. Answer your phone
These days, you can find lots of advice from time management gurus and others who say you shouldn’t answer your phone as phone calls from people are seen as interruptions to your “real” work.
I don’t follow this advice — although I’d probably save lots of time if I did. That’s because I actually like getting calls from my clients and from people who may want to use my services.
I learned how to give “good phone” while working at a small manufacturing company. For seven years I ran the front office and spent my days managing four phone lines. The owner of the company, and my boss, used to read lots of books about customer service and actually recorded me answering the phone and talking to customers so that I could do it better!
Answering my own phone — and letting myself be interrupted — has paid in spades. My client, Dr. Helaine Smith, called me in 2005. When she tells this story to audiences she says, “Dianna was the only person of the three I called who answered her phone on a Friday afternoon.”
4. Do things without being asked
One of my son’s chores is to bring in the trash barrels. Last week he didn’t do this chore — despite the fact that it was school vacation week and he really had nothing else to do.
When I came home and asked why he hadn’t brought them in, he replied, “You didn’t tell me to do it.” I hit the roof! My reply was, “If you want to succeed in life, buster, you need to do things without being asked.”
It’s this philosophy that drives me to give my clients exceptional customer service. As one of my clients recently said to me, “I like working with you because you’re accessible. You’re always happy to hear from me. It’s obvious you’re tracking my industry because you refer to news articles and help keep me informed. You always say ‘yes,’ and you do what you say you’re going to do. You treat me with respect. All of this makes me feel heard, cared about and important.”
No one told me I had to do these things. I’m not even sure I read about them in a book. But when I put my newspaper carrier’s tip check in the envelope this morning, I realized that customer service has been the heart and soul of my business. I care about my clients and their success. It’s important to me that they know that. So I do things without being asked — even if it means it costs me in time or money.