What dog biscuits can teach us about customer service

Do you go the extra mile? Or is "good enough" good enough for you?

There are too many people who go through the motions. You know the kind, the folks who come in to work, but aren't fully there. They do their jobs, but they don't strive for excellence.

It seems customer service is at an all-time low at many businesses, so it doesn't take much to really shine these days. A cheery hello to a customer. Saying "thank you" when someone concludes their business. It's the little things that can take a humdrum experience and make it memorable. That's why I always get a smile on my face when I open my order from 1-800-PetMeds.

I have two dogs on medication and that requires a monthly order from the online pet pharmacy. When I get my box each month, it always comes with a big dog biscuit tucked inside. I'm sure they buy these in bulk and that bone probably costs a nickel or a penny, but the gesture is priceless. I really like the idea of them acknowledging that there are dogs in my home and wanting to give my pooch a treat. As a customer, it makes me like them more.

Think about it. Who doesn't enjoy some small token of appreciation? Or am I the only one who gets giddy when I stay in a hotel that leaves a mint on my pillow? People like to be acknowledged, appreciated, and seen. Mints and dog biscuits are cheap, but they are of immense value when it comes to customer service.

Is there something similar you can introduce? Some way to make your customers or clients feel special? It's not about the cost, it's about the thought. In a day and age where everything is automated, we all just cherish being treated as humans every now and again. Don't we?

30 comments:

  1. Do you think that people with certain characteristics give better customer service?  For example, do they have self-esteem, are they happy, and success orientated?  I worked in an environment where there was performance related pay and discovered that those who felt hard done by in life, were never happy, always moaning and gossiping, just plodding on in their career, never went out of their way and gave bad customer service.

    I think there are other factors.  Check out staff in our local supermarket in the UK were never happy, they told us there were constantly verbally and physically abused by customers - it created an impossible environment for them to say "thank you".  Receptions and information staff at the University I worked at were constantly miserable, but I was told its difficult to give good customer service when constantly threatened by students yielding knives.  So, when I don't receive good customer service from, say someone in a coffee store, I try and think of other factors involved.

    I believe giving good customer service is an audition to better things or further business, a great networking tool, people will remember someone who has gone out of their way.  I have private clients here in Canada and will usually provide something free to them, like a special referral rate, free training, free support for a certain period of time, don't charge for advice, etc.  Customer Service is also good if it comes from the heart rather than a company script which is one of the reasons why I am so anti-Starbucks.  I also remember good old days of the 70's and 80's when a lot of business creation was done in a pub or restaurant, there wasn't much "branding" and business was about the people not a machine.

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  2. Hi Steven. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

    The good news is that industry leaders say the 70s and 80s are coming back. The rise of social media is forcing businesses to be more human and less "corporate". That will be a welcome change, indeed!

    As for people's mood or circumstances affecting customer service, I have to say they need to get over it. My mom used to work with the public in a high volume capacity for years and years. When she went to work, she said she was "on". Meaning that whatever else was happening in her life took a back seat to be friendly and helpful to her customers. She was "on" no matter the circumstance. Being "on" was what the job required to be good at it.

    People always like to offer excuses for their shortcomings, rather than fix them. It's easier to blame others, than it is to be accountable for your own actions and mood.

    Although I feel for the people you use in your examples, I say they need to do what they do well or if things are so horrible, it's time to make a change. Nothing has ever been solved by bellyaching. We make our own luck.

    If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

    Phew! Ok, I'm stepping off the soapbox now...

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  3. I am not sure everyone has the ability to recognize they have a shortcoming or the skills to fix them which is probably where the crux of the matter lies.  Not everyone is as clever as or has the emotional intelligence of your Mum.  Maybe the problem also lies with the hiring and firing process.

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  4. Yay! Another awesome sugestion - so easy & so simple but so effective.  I'll be reposting this gem to my veterinary friends everywhere I can :-)

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  5. Sorry to but in here - couldn't help myself ;-)  I do agree with Amber that if you work in customer service - well - you work in custmer service & that means dealing with unhappy people.  However, I also agree with Steven (can you tell my background is HR ;-)   ) bcause it IS definately all about the hiring.  If you want staff to provide a high level of customer service you need to hire people who actually want to do it & in fact, enjoy dealing with people - good & bad.  It's not that hard to turn around a grumpy, unhappy person but it does take a smile & a genuine desire to help.  To be fair it also involves a work place with systems in place - but that's another blog entirely!

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  6. Steven and Judy: Indeed, the hiring criteria is crucial. And an emphasis from management that customers come first.

    Thank you both for your insights!

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  7. Yay! Thanks, Judy!

    When I was growing up the bank my mom went to had a drive thru window. Whenever she did her banking and we had the dogs in the car, the teller would send some dog biscuits through the shoot with her receipt. We always got a kick out of it and it made banking fun!

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  8. I just like the idea of drive through banking!  Drive through anything has never really caught on in Australia (except of course for fast food!)

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  9. I have nice childhood memories of drive-thru banking. It's pretty scarce nowadays, though ;-(

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  10. I wasn't actually thinking on the lines of a person being employed as a customer service agent.  I was more thinking on the lines that this is a basic skill everyone should have in any job which is how I read Amber's article.  Even within a company another department is and should be treated as a customer.  I have delivered Customer Service training based on that premise and generally people love learning new skills but there is always one who will say "my boss sent me, I don't know why I am here, I am perfect".  So I am thinking that when hiring staff I would say one of the core competencies of any position is customer service and that should be part of someone's assessment and training plan.  Having worked in Government and Higher Education there are so many people who just sit there day in day out without making any contribution to the organizations purpose who think its ok just to 'coast' but its difficult to fire them because the do what the minimum requirement of the position entails.

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  11. Yep, Steven. Many mediocre people pass muster for being average, don't they?

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  12. The extra gesture sets your business apart from the competition. I'm more likely to remember the mint, the dog biscuit, etc vs just getting what I ordered and I'm likely to order from them again. Great blog post, Amber! 

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  13. Cheri AllbrittonJune 1, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    The existence of my staff and me is to provide Customer Service to a multi niche clientel. We carry or have access to over 40,000 stock keeping units, some purchased direct, some purchased from a reseller, some purchased from other divisions of our company. When we hire someone to our staff, it takes them about a year to really feel comfortable understanding not just where the stuff comes from but the features and benefits of the products as well. Luckily we have little staff turn over so there is always someone available to answer the more detailed questions our customers may have or decipher what exactly they are looking for. Because of this the first thing we tell these employees is that although we are happy to help them take of a customer, they need to stay involved too so they will know the answer for the next time they may be asked. We also instruct the employee to tell the customer that they are new and need to get some help so they both can learn together. Customers appreciate that. Customers are happy to have their problems solved with products they know will work for them. By not guessing and instead admitting you may not know the answer but are happy to find someone else who has it goes a long way in establishing customer confidence. Confident customers are happy customers.

    @jeffkorhan wrote a post today that I believe adds to your conversation: http://bit.ly/mA386r

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  14. Better yet if it were a Beggin Strip!

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  15. You might be interested in this article http://bit.ly/kbRZs2 - Assholes are bad for Business!

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  16. Just goes to show you how cheaply loyalty can be won, right? No excuse not to go that extra mile when it can do so much!

    Thanks for stopping by, Sukhraj.

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  17. I'm with you on saying you're new. Nothing wrong with that. I rather someone admit they don't know, rather than guess at an answer. I'm happy to wait until they can check.

    Just yesterday, I called VitaminWater to ask a question about caffeine. I got two different answers. One from Facebook and one from the toll-free number. Someone was guessing or not checking their facts. Sloppy work.

    Thanks for providing your customer service insights to the dialogue, Cheri! ;-)

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  18. Oh, my dogs go bonkers for Beggin' Strips! Now, that's some good grub! ^,,^

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  19. I never done it, but I often tell Jackson they smell so good I may just take a bite!

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  20. If Jackson could talk I'm sure he'd say "keep your paws off my Beggin' Strips, Dad!" ;-)

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  21. Hey Amber....This was a great piece.  Made me think back to the exceptional customer service I received when I placed my order for that toy.  I didn't get a freebie...but something just as important.  They took the initiative and acknowledged that there might be other dogs in my household and wanted to ensure I was purchasing the right things for each one.  That little extra "freebie" can make all the difference.
    I'm sorry I haven't told you this week how much I love your blog : )

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  22. Excellent post on an important topic, Amber (not that that's any surprise, of course :-)

    Two elements of customer service that never fail to amaze me are 1) how easy it is and 2) how many people & companies fail at it.

    As your PetMeds experience indicates, customer service doesn't have to involve grand gestures, huge giveaways, or other SPECIAL SPECIAL SPECIAL  events. In fact, I'd argue that true (and truly effective) customer service is exactly the opposite -- that is, focused on the small experiences that put a personal & supportive touch on the company-customer relationship.

    Hadn't really thought of it this way 'til now, but this "small gesture" effort is a lot like what's involved in maintaining a quality personal relationship. If you only focus on the "big moments" (birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day), there will always be an air of superficiality about the relationship -- i.e., you're doing what you have to do, precisely because you have to do it. The company-customer equivalent would be the annual sale, the mass-mailed message, the "invitation only" event that everyone & their second cousin gets invited to, etc., etc, etc. ...

    However, if you're in a personal relationship that involves lots of "small" gestures (the little notes tucked into his/her briefcase, the flowers/gifts for no reason other than "just because", the myriad small kindnesses that aren't dependent upon either the calendar or social expectations), then I think you're in a relationship that has a much better chance of enduring & flourishing.

    Of course, this whole metaphor breaks down a bit when it comes to the actual mailing of dog bones -- but I think you know where I'm going with all this.

    Providing the required/expected level of customer service is a minimal effort that will (hopefully) preclude your customer from immediately looking for other options. But the small personal touches (doggy treats, a brief hand-written thank you on the shipping invoice, etc.) are the ones that help your customers fall in love with you.

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  23. I remember reading your story about that toy. And, yes, that was exceptional customer service, as well. For sure. I think anytime a company listens, solves problems, and offers suggestions that is huge! It was a great example of a company doing customer service the right way! (For everyone else, here's a link to Rachel's story: http://bit.ly/k6Xgmb)

    And, don't be silly about the sorry, you silly goose. Have I told YOU how much I love the blog header you made for me???? ;-)

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  24. What a wonderful example, Hugh! Yes, good customer service is like dating, isn't it? And, frankly, I don't think your analogy breaks down at all when it comes to dog bones. A guy can get a lot further with me if he brings treats for my dogs instead of flowers for me ;-)

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful analysis. I think you're on to something, indeed!

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  25. Snoring Dog StudioJune 5, 2011 at 4:01 AM

    It would put a smile on my face, too. I love this. My sister often takes her dog to a doggy daycare center. When she picks up her dog at the end of the day, the center always gives the patron a handmade "report card." It includes the most clever stuff, such as which dog she played with that day and a mood nickname. It gives me the impression that the staff are all going the extra mile to make the experience special! 

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  26. Hey Jeanie! Thanks for stopping by, my fellow dog lover! This is right up both our alleys, huh?

    I've heard of the doggie report cards and just love the idea. It's a cheap thing to do and gives clients the impression that they care and pay attention to your pooch. Who wouldn't love that????

    It's the little things, isn't it? Just like Hugh said below. A guy who buys you a gift on Valentine's is just going meeting the expectations of the relationship. The guy who gives you a gift "just because" is really nurturing the relationship. :-)

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  27. I've heard of the report cards before, especially for boarding. They include things like how many times Max tinkled or anything in particular that he did on his walk. I've also seen boarding places that have web cams set up so you can see what your critters are up to.

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  28. Petmeds puts a pouch of catnip in your box if you have a kitty. Love that!

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  29.  Oh really???? I didn't know that. Neato! I like it!

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