I’ve had a rash of positive customer service experiences over the past couple of months and feel compelled to share them with you. We talk a lot on this blog about making your decisions (whether about a library’s collection, a marketing project, or fee pricing) in a client facing manner. My three experiences did exactly that, and each had a different aspect of what it means to be client facing and to look at the situation the client is in and make the best suggestions for the client. It wasn’t just about giving clients good customer service – that should be the floor of your customer service operation, not the ceiling – but, rather going the extra step to:

  • be better than the customer expects you to be;
  • listen to what the customer is actually saying and counsel them in the right direction, and;
  • know when you are not the best solution, but can point the customer to someone that is, even if that someone is a competitor.
Here are my three (non-law related) experiences that have made me think more about what I need to do to provide the best experience for my clients.
Guitar Center and the Cheap Guitar
I picked up a cheap guitar online a few months ago (somewhere around $125.00 – see picture above) because I really like the telecaster look, and it had a really cool design of a Texas flag on it. I didn’t really expect much from it, but when it arrived, it was pretty much unplayable. I knew that I needed to take it to a guitar shop and have it set up properly, but I dreaded going in with an off-brand guitar to a shop that sold Fenders and Gibsons. I was pretty sure I was going to get the answer of “geez, where did you get this thing?” and “I don’t think this is going to be playable… but let me show you some real guitars that you should have bought in the first place.” I actually waited a week before going in because I was pretty sure that was going to be my experience. However, I was dead wrong.
When I went into my local Guitar Center off of Westheimer here in Houston, I got the exact opposite experience. Instead of ridicule and salesmanship, I got treated like I was bringing in something special. The floor staff all came by and asked where I got the guitar. One told another that they should find something like this to sell in the store, and one showed me a picture on her iPhone of a guitar she painted for another customer as a Texas flag. The set-up man was busy working on a much more expensive Gibson Gold Top, but when he finished with that guitar (costing five times or more) he went to work on mine for nearly an hour and came back all smiles and told me that I would have a great time playing this guitar. 
The men and women at Guitar Center gave me a much better experience than I anticipated, it was sincere, and I walked away very happy. Needless to say, I’ve gone back and bought a number of things (probably some my wife thinks I don’t need) from that store since. 
Sears, the X-Box and the Blu-Ray

When I went looking for a game console, I went to Sears to pick one up. I knew I wanted the X-Box 360 and went in, found the salesman with the key to the cabinet, pointed it out to him and within a few minutes was ready to check out. However, I had a some money left on my gift card, so I told him that I really liked a Blu-Ray player my brother-in-law had and wanted to see if they had one like it. After looking at a few of them, I mentioned that I really wanted on for all of the online television, music and Internet options, as I already had a blu-ray player, but it didn’t have all of the bells and whistles like my the one my brother-in-law had. That’s when the salesman chimed in, lost a sale, but gained a customer.
I had the player picked out and was going to close the deal when he told me that if what I wanted was the bells and whistles, then I didn’t need the blu-ray player at all. Everything I needed, and more, was already included in the X-Box console I had waiting for me at the register. He even mentioned that Microsoft was doing an upgrade this month to make it even better. So, instead of plunking down another $180 for something I didn’t need, I simply walked back and paid for the game console. It was nice that someone listened to what I actually needed and guided me in the right direction. That’s the sort of thing that, as a customer, I remember and will tell my friends about.
The Software Consultant and the Competition

After seeing some of the results of the Lexis Advance platform and the High Performance Computer Clustering (HPCC) combination, I started looking around at other types of Hadoop options out there and ran across Pentaho. Pentaho, pronounced “Pen-TAH-ho”, is an open-source business intelligence software, but the software is packaged by the company with many add-on features that make it easy to use, and they also offer valuable consulting as well. I had a number of things that I wanted to test out with Pentaho, and when I talked with Rob Sampson it became apparent that there were a few things on my list that weren’t really doable with Pentaho. Now, it has been my experience that when you run across software that does many of the things you want, but is lacking in one or two areas, I get an answer similar to “that is in the works and should be out in the third quarter of next year” sales-speak. However, that was not the answer I got this time. Instead, I got pointed to some other open-source software that actually competes in the same space as Pentaho. 
Rob wasn’t thrilled pointing me to the other software – I think his exact words were “it pains me to say this, but…” – but, he did. However, he didn’t stop there and wish me luck on my project. Instead, he knew that a couple of the things I needed to do first could be handled by the competitor, and once that part of the project was finished, then his product could come in and complete the work. He listened to what I wanted to do, and he helped me understand that there were pieces that would need to be handled in different ways, with different software, and one of those pieces could be handled better by a competitor. Therefore, instead of trying to convince me to wait until some piece of vapor-ware product came out at the end of next year, he actually put me in a better position to start the project, and come back and evaluate his software when I was further along. That’s the type of customer service that gets you a long-term win by understanding that when you help someone with their overall goals, they’ll be back, or at least will give you good reference to their colleagues when asked for software solution suggestions.
Be Better – Listen – Guide
My three experiences have really made me think of how I approach those I support. It made me think that I need to give my customers a better experience than they expect, I need to listen to their needs over my own, and guide them in the right direction, even if that direction means someone else would be better at helping them achieve their objectives. Thanks to the helpful people and Guitar Center, Sears and Pentaho for helping me in ways beyond my initial request.