When I was in high school, I worked as a cashier at a convenience store. I was seventeen, and the typical “thought-I-knew-everything-but-did-not-know-everything” kind of kid.
One morning, I was in the aisle, putting away some stock when a customer of ours started talking to me. Toward the end of the conversation, she accidentally dropped the coffee she was holding. Frazzled and embarrassed, she apologized and started to pull out her wallet.
“I’ll go get a mop after I ring you up, ma’am, and the floor will be good to go.”
My boss, who was in the same aisle taking inventory, came over and said something that—to this day—I will never forget.
“Oh, Carol, you don’t have to pay for this. Accidents happen, and we love our customers. Go grab another cup of coffee, and don’t worry about a thing.”
“Thank you so much, Terry, I so appreciate it. This is the reason why I shop here.”
I was floored and confused. What? Did my boss just give her free coffee? (Of course, these were the thoughts of a naive teenager at the time. I’m much smarter now.)
The woman proceeded to fill up another cup of coffee, smiled as she walked passed us, and was on her way. Meanwhile, in aisle two of the convenience store, I was learning one of the most valuable lessons in life: The customer is always right.
I suppose it was my bewildered look that prompted my boss to explain herself.
“Brian, we take care of our people. They come in every day and trust us with their business. Even if it’s milk and bread, we play a role in their life, and we do everything we can to make their experience with us a pleasant one.”
I nodded in quasi-agreement and understanding, walked into the back to grab the mop, thinking to myself, We just gave away $0.27 in profit.
There are all kinds of things to learn when you are coming-of-age, but over time, the lesson I was taught that day sunk in. Big time.
. . .
A few years ago, I woke up one morning and opened my email. The subject of the dispatch Paul sent that morning was “This is not about me”—which is quite brilliant if you think about it, because what raving fan wouldn’t want to see what something with an email subject line of “This is not about me” is all about?
“My picture and words are on my site. I create and sell my own products. And I pay for this newsletter, as well as hit the ‘publish’ button each week. Given all that, it’s easy to believe that this is The Paul Jarvis Show—both in terms of me sometimes thinking it and folks, like you, believing it too. In reality, though, nothing is further from the truth.”
Then he lands a left hook:
“In fact, the most important person in my business is you.”
Immediately, I was brought back to my coffee encounter with Carol. I was reminded of the impact that a simple gesture of sincerity had on me—and presumably a similar impact it had on her as well.
. . .
Back in 2007, I left my day job, which, ironically, was given to me by another customer of that convenience store. (This is another story of customer-service-gone-right that I’ll get into another day.)
I left that job to pursue the wonderful world of creative entrepreneurship by establishing a “work-at-home” thing called StudioPress. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing, and also had no idea what it would become.
But one thing I knew is that, during the formative years, customer service was far and away one of the most important things I wanted to instill on the brand.
I wanted customers to associate StudioPress with excellent customer service. I wanted to be known as “The WordPress Nice Guy” and to be remembered as someone who cared about people.
In the digital world, folks don’t spill coffee in aisles of convenience stores, but they do accidentally purchase the wrong theme, get in over their heads, or want a refund for reasons they won’t disclose.
Years ago, when I was flying solo, I gave them one every time. And to this day, StudioPress has a 30-day money-back guarantee refund policy, no questions asked.
. . .
In his email, Paul illustrated the importance of serving your customers the right way:
“It can be difficult to make your business about your customers. If they’re angry about something, or worse, apathetic about what they’ve purchased (E.g., they buy a course but never even log in to start the work), then you can feel like who you’re trying hard to serve doesn’t care.”
Then he closes with:
“But in those moments, even though it’s difficult, you still have to empathize. In fact, that’s the most important time to have empathy, or as Brené Brown says, to feel with someone. In those moments, you have to take a step back and see what went wrong, what you can own about that, and try and do better.”
Friends, it is my promise to you—my reader, my fellow Swiftie, my potential customer, my “whatever role you play in my world”—to do as Paul suggests: Better.
And if what I am doing is not good enough, if you find that for whatever reason I am not fulfilling that promise, I give you full permission to let me know. Because the customer is always right, and the most important person in my business is you.