What can broken eyeglasses teach us about customer service?

I want to talk about customer service and how it can help your career. You see more than a year ago I got my eyes checked to get a new prescription for reading glasses. The eye doctor I went to was a family friend. It was a very pleasant trip and she did a superb job of get exactly the right lenses for my reading glasses. They were the best performing reading glasses I’ve had so far.

Only one little problem, she was not responsible for making the lenses; that was another department of the same company. And wouldn’t you know it, they were the worst made lenses/frames combination I’ve ever had. You see I had asked that they make the new lenses in fit them in my old frame. This should be something that is very easy for a reputable eye care center to do. unfortunately the lenses were badly mismade and started falling out (continuously – 3 to 4 times per day) shortly after I got them. So I was stuck with an embarrassing situation, bad eyeglasses from a family friend’s office.

After months of dealing with the annoyance, I finally asked my wife (the optometrist is actually her close friend) to take the stupid things back and get them fixed. She took them back to her friend, who was very apologetic, who then turned them over to the production department.  In a few days the production department called to let us know my lenses were installed in my frames and we could pick them up; they were sorry for the problem. OK, now guess what happened that evening? That’s right, lenses falling out again. Let’s say that I was more than a little miffed.

Jules said that she would take them back again so I gave her my glasses and their case. She had them with her on the way to see her dad in Athens. Jules popped into Wal-Mart in Athens to get a pair of the cheap magnifying lenses (commonly used as reading glasses) so that I could have a backup pair while my regular reading glasses were being re-done. She visited with the optometrist in the vision center there to see if he could advise her on the correct magnification to get me. Steve (the Wal-Mart optometrist) asked why she was getting the magnifying lenses and upon hearing what the issue was with my reading glasses, he asked to see them. Immediately he commented on how horribly fitting the lenses were. He actually asked my wife to wait a few minutes while he fixed them. That’s right, while he FIXED them, at no charge. In about 10 minutes he was finished and returned the glasses to my wife. I’ve been using them for about a month and the lenses are in the frames solidly.  I don’t even feel the need for a return visit to the original eye care center.

 There are some lessons to be learned from this little tale:

  1. Even if you have a personal relationship with your customer, the job needs to be done right. Poorly delivered goods or services can put an embarrassing strain on personal relationships. Quality is an all the time thing, not just for customers that you don’t know.
  2. Every time you hear a customer complain be grateful.  You should translate that in your head so that you actually hear them saying

“You know, I like you and your business so very much that even though I was terribly disappointed by my last encounter I want desperately to continue doing business with you. Will you please make this right so that I can continue being a satisfied customer?”

  1. When there has been a problem with your goods or services, make sure that when correcting the issue you actually correct the issue – go above and beyond the call of duty. Customers who are complaining and brining you problems aren’t a reason to get mad, they are a reason to celebrate. These are folks that are giving you a second chance to make things right. Don’t disappoint them again.  Pay extra attention to details to make sure that everything is beyond their expectations. 
  2. When you have an opportunity to help a customer, even a potential customer, don’t let profit be the only motivating factor. Sometimes doing something at no charge can pay handsome dividends.
  3. Continue serving your customers (whoever they are, internal and external) and your career will blossom. No doubt, the person who services the customer the best may not become the chairman of the board… but s/he will be satisfied and happy doing their job and noticed for the positive effect they have on the businesses performance. If statistics could measure it accurately, I think that you would find people who give great customer service being promoted more often and paid better than those who don’t.

You can bet that the entire chain of Wal-Mart stores has been elevated by the single unselfish and helpful act of Steve the Optometrist in the Athens store. That means that over 3500 stores are going to benefit from positive feelings of at least my wife and I, and probably many of the people that read my blog [OK 3 isn’t that many more, but it’s better than zero.] Positive impressions in the minds of customers are very valuable, in fact priceless. Steve ‘purchased’ them for Wal-Mart from me and Jules with just 10 minutes of effort. Not a bad return.  Now I don’t know if Steve will get promoted or get a raise or get a bonus, just from this one incident of great customer service.  But I’m pretty sure that it is likely a pattern of performance that has been recognized and rewarded throughout his career.

So, if you have read this far, be like Steve, take care of your potential customers. It will pay off for you. And if you are in Athens and need help, go see Steve in the Wal-Mart at 4375 Lexington Rd.

About the author, Chief Executive Restaurant Recruiter

Born in Arkansas, moved to FL for 3 years as a youngster. Lived in GA most of my life. Married in 1985, 2 kids, one of each. Graduate of USNA Class of 1980. Love golf, computers, poker, photography, and gadgets.

  1. Carl,
    great article, and excellent content. One thing I would like to bring up though before everyone rushes to praise Walmart – many of the optometrist offices at Walmart are independent doctors of optometry

    Anyways, do want to say, excellent advice.

  2. Hi Karen. Good point about some of the offices being independent. My take on that would be that valuable square footage in the stores isn’t given up to second rate independent business units. Only the cream of the crop are invited in and allowed to stay… once again those businesses are rewarded for great customer service!

  3. The rent isn’t cheap – but agree with your comments- It is truly about customer service, and how one brands oneself.

    According to a new research study from Wharton and the Verde Group – published in the Results of The Retail Customer Dissatisfaction Study 2006 (PDF) – of those shoppers who experienced problems with a retailer, only 6% contacted the company, but 31% went on to tell friends and family. Of those, 8% told one person, 8% told two people, and 6% told six or more people. The study further found that out of 100 dissatisfied customers a retailer stands to lose between 32 and 36 current or potential customers.
    The study truly illustrates the power of negative word of mouth and the retelling of stories. Indeed, and according to the study, “the complaints have an even greater impact on shoppers who were not directly involved as the story spreads and is embellished. Almost half those surveyed, 48%, reported they have avoided a store in the past because of someone else’s negative experience.”

    I think today, the world of the internet can multiply those numbers. Indeed, look at the positive feelings your experience generated; And of course there will be a willingness of many to share this story with others..or even on other sites…

    Hmm, turning this a bit to recruiting.. sometimes I read something on the net, and wonder did they say that, really, in public?

    Carl, do you think that sometimes people forget the power of the internet? for positive and negative?

    Great post by the way! Really makes one think!

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