Customer service contains many tiers

I EXCHANGED LETTERS recently with the owner of a local supply house regarding its poor service and a new billing policy. The supply house had initiated a minimum of $50 per purchase and doesn't understand why that rubs me the wrong way. To top that off, the wholesaler has given us less-than-stellar service when we've received defective materials. You'll no doubt understand why we only buy products

I EXCHANGED LETTERS recently with the owner of a local supply house regarding its poor service and a new billing policy. The supply house had initiated a minimum of $50 per purchase and doesn't understand why that rubs me the wrong way.

To top that off, the wholesaler has given us less-than-stellar service when we've received defective materials. You'll no doubt understand why we only buy products there that are not available elsewhere. The owner told me that the minimum purchase was an incentive for us to do more business with him.

Another supply house is consistently 10% higher on sales of PHVAC products. The people there tell me, "Do more business with us and you'll get better pricing."

I've wrestled with that sentence more than once and I guess I just don't get it. Why would that give me any incentive to buy more from them when I'm already getting better pricing elsewhere?

I've always operated under the assumption that we need to constantly strive for ways to improve our customer service levels. Why put up roadblocks to those interested in using our services and purchasing our products? It just wouldn't make sense and, in the long term, might just cause the ultimate demise of our company.

One weekend this fall, my father and I went shopping for a new lawn tractor. We share adjoining yards and my old tractor had had a massive engine failure. She'd been a long and faithful yard companion for well beyond 10 years, so we were hoping to find a sturdy replacement. We set off on a Saturday's adventure to investigate the myriad of choices. We plotted a path that would take us to what we thought would be best, better and good product lines.

Our first stop was the place that sells those big construction-orange industrial-strength tractors and backhoes. The salesperson greeted us with a surly, "What do you want?"

That set the tone for our entire experience with his company. He acted as if waiting on us was the most tiresome experience of his life. The icing on the cake, however, came when he made an extremely distasteful ethnic slur after I had asked him whether the price was negotiable. If I were Jewish, he'd have gotten a fat lip! After that experience, we wouldn't have taken one of his garden tractors, even if they were free.

Next stop was the store where they sell those very nice green garden tractors. We waited a long time before anyone bothered to find out what we wanted. The salesman started off the conversation with, "I'm closing in a few minutes because I want to go home early today."

He was very knowledgeable, friendly and had us ready to write a check—on the spot. His demeanor and salesmanship were impeccable, but he was way too anxious to close.

Our final stop, before we planned to go home to digest all our information so we could make a proper decision, was that big orange box store. I couldn't imagine it would have what we were looking for and chuckled inwardly about how some freckle-faced kid would probably be waiting on us. Instead, I was in for a true example of not just good, but stellar customer service!

We waited only a few minutes before a salesman approached us and inquired, "Is there anything I can do for you today?" From there, it only got better. He stayed with us and answered every question. When I asked him ones he didn't know the answer to, he immediately sought out someone who did, and with a smile.

He made us feel as if we were the only people shopping in the store! On no less than three occasions, other customers tried to distract him from our sale and he politely informed them that he couldn't leave our side and then directed them to another salesperson.

Believe me, we wanted to buy from this guy. Interestingly, his devotion to our complete satisfaction did not end with the agreement to purchase a tractor. He accompanied us to the sales desk and obtained and filled out the warranty registration card, which he insisted on mailing for us. The cashier treated us like family. The salesman then walked the length of the store to help secure the delivery truck.

So, here we were with a new tractor and completely satisfied with the choice we'd made. All this was based upon the quality of the product and the level of service we had received.

After we got home, my bride produced a letter from the same big orange box people indicating our first "charged" purchase would qualify for an extra 10% discount. I cringed at the thought of how that idea would be received, but we all piled into the car for the trip back.

Again, the people there couldn't have been more accommodating. Not once did anyone question the ton of paperwork we were generating or indicate they would rather be doing anything else more important.

As we drove home that night, I wished the owner of that supply house could have been with us that day to see, first hand, the many tiers of customer service we had seen, and I wondered if he could have seen where his firm fit into the larger picture.

You and I bust our backs every day giving stellar service to our customers, and we can't keep that up if our suppliers don't hold up their end of the bargain. Fortunately, there are wholesale-to-the-trade-only supply houses that know the value and customer loyalty that this level of service brings. They also know that small sales lead to bigger sales and how absurd it is to punish customers with minimum purchase quantities. In the final analysis, we can only vote with our purchasing dollars.

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected]