Summer is officially over now that Labor Day is in the rearview mirror. But it’s still warm and lovely and not too late to reflect on the summer road trip – as quintessentially American as apple pie and baseball. This year I joined the throngs of road warriors to set off across the west on a visitation. I didn’t have national parks or other typical vacation destinations in mind, my purpose was to visit people who have the bad taste to not live close to me. Luckily they reside in some pretty beautiful places. Unlike the Oregon Trail pioneers, I traveled in air conditioned comfort with plenty of music and podcasts to keep me entertained. I had a Rand-McNally road map to guide me and a dog as a companion, no oxen.
- Almost 3,000 miles.
- Twenty days.
- Four states.
- One cracked windshield.
- One broken tooth.
- Many wonderful people
The speed limit in Idaho is 80 mph on freeways and 70 mph on back roads. I sped along roads that made me feel like Thelma and Louise on the lam. When I did happen to see any people they seemed perfectly pleasant so I didn’t need to blow up any truckers.
Speaking of nice people, one day I pulled into a small nondescript gas station in Helena, Montana. Suddenly I saw four smiling men approaching my car. For a moment I feared it was a terrorist attack in clever disguise but no, it was something I hadn’t experienced in about 40 years. Incredible customer service. One man filled the gas and checked the fluids. Another opened my car door and chatted me up while he vacuumed my car. Yet another cleaned every piece of glass on my car while the fourth checked the air in my tires. I was then presented with a paper summarizing the fluid levels and sent on my way with best wishes for a good trip. If you’re ever in the area, check them out. It’s Tim’s Exxon where the motto is “Service like the ’50s & 60s.” It made me swoon.
My experience at Tim’s made me think about customer service in general. Really great customer service is so rare these days that when it does happen it bowls me over. At another gas station in Montana I had a brain dead moment and couldn’t make the pump work. We Oregonians lack practice in pumping our own gas since we’re legally not allowed to be self-sufficient. So I had to ask the young man on duty for help. He came out to assist with genuine good cheer and asked about my trip and told me someday he’d like to move to the big city – Missoula. This was not a person with barely disguised contempt covered by a smile as fake as a three dollar bill. He actually seemed to enjoy talking to me and helping me. It made my day.
Then I left Montana and that was the end of that. Oh sure, on the rest of my trip I had adequate service. No one slapped me upside the head when I asked for something but I missed the feeling that for a brief moment I was the most important customer they ever had and as a bonus they actually met my needs. When was the last time you had service like that? Just consider calls to tech support. I have to gird myself psychologically to call and usually it ends with the problem being unresolved while the technician in India reads from the computer screen “how else may I provide you excellent service today?”
After arriving back at home, somewhat worn out from the miles, I needed to attend to that broken windshield. Much to my surprise I experienced even more great customer service. What’s going on? Is it the end of days? I called Safelite to schedule an appointment. They will come to your home which is delightfully hassle free. A time was agreed upon and on the day of the appointment they called to confirm and tell me precisely when they would arrive. They sent an email with a photo of the technician so that I’d know who to expect. And then he actually arrived when he said he would and was pleasant and efficient. There was a problem with the type of windshield in my car (which was no fault of theirs) so they rescheduled, apologized profusely, and gave me a big discount for my inconvenience. And the entire time the technician was informative and genuinely pleasant. Swooning again.
What we all want is a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. As Dr. Winch pointed out, customer service respects our time, our dignity, and our intelligence. When customer service employees treat me like the police treat a perp, my dignity is diminished. If I’m fossilizing while waiting on hold and a recorded voice tells me my call is important to them, I know they are dirty rotten liars. If it was that important they’d be talking to me. If they have done nothing to fix the problem but tell me they were happy to provide me excellent customer service I can only imagine they believe I have the IQ of an earthworm.
My road trip allowed me to connect with old friends and to see exquisitely beautiful country. But the surprise was to encounter such amazing customer service. It makes me smile just to think of it and I’ll make a point to use these businesses again. Or tell you about it. Isn’t that the point? Comcast, are you paying attention?