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Everyone has potential to be a customer
Robert M. Williams Jr.

All of us in business work hard to build repeat customers. It’s a lot easier, and less expensive, to keep a customer than it is to attract a new one.

Not everyone understands that concept, however.

One company we used to send quite a bit of our business to apparently took us for granted. I told them the price they were charging for one particular service was way above the market rate and causing us to be non-competitive in one area. I pleaded for some relief, but got none.

After I gave up and moved that business elsewhere, this same company has spent many dollars attempting to woo me back into the fold. They even offered to meet the price I once requested on that service. But it’s too late. Taking a customer for granted can be costly.

A lesson on great customer service came my way just this week from a man I’ve never met: Allen Shields, in Kansas. After pricing some specialty products online, Allen gave me a call. He started his conversation in a savvy way.

“I just want to ask you a couple of questions to know more about your needs, and that way I can better know how I can serve you.”

In just a few sentences, Allen got a fix on what my needs are, the quantities necessary to satisfy my order — and then he gave me a surprise. And a terrific lesson in customer service.

“Robert,” he said, “with the numbers you are talking about ordering, I doubt I can give you the kind of price you’re going to want.”

Then came the shocker.

“I know there are one or two other companies who can provide you with the quality you need at the quantity to fill your orders,” he said. “And I think I can send you some information so you can check with them and probably get a better price.”


And then he did just what he said he would do. In about 20 minutes, I had an email with the name of a similar company — one much closer — as well as their phone number.


Turns out that company is one I had already discovered and was considering making an inquiry with anyhow. This unexpected endorsement of their work by a competitor helped make up my mind checking with them would be a wise decision.

How many of us go to such effort to serve customers, especially when we’re sending dollars somewhere else? Not many, I suspect, but one thing for certain: If I get a chance to need higher quantities of this product, you can bet my first call will be to Allen.

Buying online is, obviously, growing rapidly, but many of us still prefer to buy right here, close to home, and spend our money locally. A longtime pattern personally, and with our business, is that we try to trade with those who trade with us.

It just makes sense. If you’re willing to shop with me, I should be willing to spend with you. And we normally do.

But there are occasional exceptions.

One longtime local business has never sold us a single product. Am I grateful for the dollars they’ve spent with me? Absolutely.

But, it’s all about attitude.

The staff at this business seem to delight in being difficult. They have treated me and my employees rudely. They don’t return phone calls, and often fail to do what they say they will do.

I always wonder ... do they ever consider I could be a customer, too? I could be spending money with them. We have dealt with them for many years but they’ve been like this from the very start. It’s not because I haven’t bought from them. Perhaps I should.

But their attitude turns me off and sends my dollars elsewhere.

One business impressed me by being unwilling to send me away with needs unmet. Another apparently enjoys being condescending and rude — because they can be.

One convinces me I need to find a way to do business with them. The other leads me to find reasons not to buy.

Our customer service attitudes need checking from time to time. I’m sure gonna work on mine. And if you’re a customer of ours and you don’t believe we appreciate you, please give me an opportunity to prove we do.

Robert M. Williams Jr. is an Effingham native, now living in Blackshear. He publishes weekly newspapers in Blackshear, Alma, Folkston, McRae and Forsyth. Email him at