Author’s Note: Customer-focus begins at the top of an organization. I’ve seen too many companies where “customer service” and “customer experience” are just talking points. Words on a mission statement. Yet they can’t understand why customers aren’t loyal. This is an excerpt from chapter 24 of The Journey to WOW, where Cameron learns a valuable lesson about corporate attitude.
“May I help you?” came a clipped, haughty voice. Under her gaze, Cameron had the distinct feeling that he’d done something wrong
“I’m sure you may!” Madeleine said sweetly. “We’re here to see Mr. Normas.”
“Do you have an appointment?” came the cool response.
“I’m sure we must.” Madeleine said. “After all, we do have to have an appointment to see people, now don’t we?” She gestured to a replica of the door sign that was mounted on the front of the desk.
The receptionist arched an eyebrow and looked down at the screen in front of her. “Your name?” she inquired. Now it was Madeleine’s turn to raise her eyebrow. Still smiling, she tilted her head down and locked her gaze with the receptionist over the top of her glasses. “Really.” she asked, “Must we go through this one again?” While the smile was on her face, it was definitely not in her voice.
Cameron thought he saw a brief flinch on the part of the receptionist, but she held her ground. She broke eye contact with Madeleine and looked down at her screen. A moment later she looked back up with an air of quiet defiance. “I have no notes regarding an appointment for Mr. Normas at this time,” she said stonily. “And I can’t let you in without an appointment. That is a clearly indicated policy.”
“And a good one it is too!” Madeleine exclaimed, suddenly brightening. “Otherwise people would be just wandering about willy-nilly! She leaned forward and looked upside-down at the monitor. “So there’s no appointment listed in there for Mr. Normas right now?” She asked incredulously.
“None whatsoever.” The receptionist said smugly.
“Wonderful!” said Madeleine with a pleased look. “That means we won’t be interrupting him in the middle of a meeting. He’s a very important man, you know!” She reached over the counter and pushed a small black button beside the computer monitor. The receptionist let out a flustered cry and began waving her arms about. Cameron heard the buzzing sound of the door to the inner offices unlocking. “Come along,” Madeleine said to Cameron. “We mustn’t keep Mr. Normas waiting!” She took his arm and lead him through the door. Turning to the agitated receptionist just before the door closed behind them, Madeleine smiled and indicated the shopping cart they’d left beside her desk. “Oh, be a dear, would you, and keep an eye on my things for me?”
Madeleine scrupulously ignored the “Stop!” “You can’t go in there!” “I’m calling security!” coming from the reception area as they walked down the hallway. Cameron gave his companion an appraising look as they walked. “You don’t take no for an answer, do you?” he said.
Madeleine looked at him in surprise. “And why should I?” she asked.
Cameron grinned. “The customer is always right, is that it?,” he said.
“Oh, pish,” Madeleine scoffed, “The customer is not always right, and you know it.” She raised a finger and looked at him. “But the customer is always the customer,” she said, “and ‘No’ is really such an offensive word, don’t you think?”
“Offensive?” Cameron said with a smile. “I’ve never thought of it as being ‘offensive’ before.”
“But it is,” Madeleine insisted. “Nothing good ever comes from saying no to a customer.”
“Well, wait a minute,” Cameron objected. “Don’t you sometimes have to? I mean, sometimes you just can’t give a customer what they want.”
“Perhaps,” Madeleine, said, “But that’s no excuse for not trying to give them what they need, is it?”
Cameron was thinking about this comment for a moment when they came to a stop at the end of the hallway. In front of them was a large wooden door with ‘ N.L. Normas, General Manager’ on a simple brass plaque beside it. Madeleine knocked softly, then turned the handle and walked in.
The man seated behind the desk was expecting them, obviously having been warned by the receptionist. He didn’t speak, but there was an unmistakable ‘explain yourself’ look on his face. Normas’ light-grey flannel suit had been pressed to an inch of its life, but still looked unstructured over his thin, taught frame. His close-cropped, greying brush-cut and long, drawn face gave him the no-nonsense look that Cameron always associated with ex-military brass. He was clearly someone who liked to be in control and was used to getting his own way. Madeleine, in typical fashion, ignored his intimidating demeanor.
“Thank you SO much for agreeing to see us on such short notice!” she said effusively. “I know how busy a man you are. I’m positively HONORED!” He didn’t look busy, Cameron thought. The desk had a monitor, a keyboard and one lone sheet of paper on it, squared exactly to the desktop. A simple ballpoint pen paralleled it on the right.
“I am quite busy,” Normas confirmed coldly. “And you don’t have an appointment.”
“Don’t be silly!” Madeleine exclaimed. “I must have an appointment, or I wouldn’t be here now, would I?” The man behind the desk blinked twice in a brief moment of confusion. She continued before he could say anything. “My friend Cameron, here, is with Household Solutions. He was hoping to learn a little from you about customer experience.”
Normas didn’t acknowledge Cameron, and kept a steady eye on Madeleine. “I would, of course, be more than pleased to cooperate,” he said flatly, “but we do have a clear policy in place for arranging such informational sessions. It involves completing the requisite request forms and non-disclosure agreements.” He tilted his head and gave them both a contemptuous look. “Oh,” he continued with unconcealed sarcasm, “and it also involves…an appointment.”
Cameron couldn’t remember the last person he had taken such an instant disliking to. He looked at Normas sitting silently at his desk with his hands folded in front of him. Arrogance just seemed to ooze out of him. Cameron couldn’t resist. “Is there a purpose behind all this formality, or does it just to make you feel good?” He finally asked him.
If Normas recognized this as a return volley of sarcasm, he gave no indication. “There is indeed a purpose,” he said smugly. “One which I could share with you if you were, in fact, supposed to be here.” He looked squarely at Cameron. It was clear that he had no intention of providing any assistance.
After a few moments of silence, Cameron turned to Madeleine. “He’s quite rude, isn’t he?” he said to her as if Normas wasn’t there.
“He is.” Madeleine agreed.
“Did you bring me here for a reason?” he asked.
“I did.” Madeleine said.
“Is there any point to us staying here?” he asked her.
“None that I can think of,” Madeleine answered.
“Should we be polite and say goodbye, or should we just leave?” Cameron asked, still ignoring the GM.
“Oh, we can’t do that!” Madeleine admonished. “Then it would be we who were the rude ones.”
Cameron nodded and turned to Normas. “Goodbye.” he said. Normas didn’t respond. Madeleine leaned toward the desk with a sweet smile. Goodbye.” she echoed. She reached out and gently nudged the piece of paper sitting on the GM’s desk so that it was no longer perfectly aligned. Cameron thought he saw Normas’s eye twitch.
On the way out the door, Cameron turned to get one last look at the officious man they had just encountered. Sure enough, he was reaching for his paper, readjusting it so that it again sat square on the desk.
“Why on earth did you take me to see this man?” Cameron asked as they walked away from the office.
Madeleine looked at him quizzically. “Why, so you could learn something about customer experience, of course. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?”
“But he had nothing to offer!” Cameron exclaimed. “You must have seen this coming. He is so arrogant – with all his rules and processes and procedures… Customer experience isn’t even on his radar screen!”
“That’s true,” Madeleine admitted with a wry smile. “He is quite confident in the way he does business, isn’t he? But surely you must have learned something from him?”
“Yeah,” Cameron grunted, “I learned I don’t like him. But I’m not sure there was much of a customer experience lesson there.”
“Really. ” Madeleine said plainly, “Hmm. Pity.”
Cameron felt a familiar tug in his stomach. He was being set up again and he knew it. They walked down the hall in silence until they came back to the reception area door. Just as Cameron reached to open it, Madeleine spoke.
“I’m a wee bit curious as to why you didn’t tell Mr. Normas about that little pricing glitch in their system,” she said innocently. “After all, it must be costing them a lot of money, and it would have been a nice gesture.”
Cameron made a face. “Why on earth would I want to do that?” he asked incredulously. “I mean, I had actually fully intended to, but after the way he treated us, why would I want to help him out? Heck, I’m half tempted to buy all the products he’s got, then turn around and sell them back to him! We’d still make a hefty profit.”
Madeleine’s eyebrows rose. “Gracious,” she said. “Aren’t we in an uncharitable mood this morning!”
“I’m not uncharitable,” Cameron said defensively, “But he obviously doesn’t care about me. Why should I care about him?”
“Good point,” Madeleine said as she opened the door. “No reason at all I guess.” Then with mock disappointment added, “Too bad there’s no customer experience lesson here…”
Cameron stopped and stared at her as their conversation sunk in. She turned and looked at him with an innocent expression.
“You really enjoy it when I say stupid things, don’t you?” he said finally.
Madeleine thought about this for a moment. “Yes,” she said finally with a big smile. “Yes I do.”“
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group of Companies, a top customer service training company and customer experience consulting company. He is the best-selling author of six books on customer service, customer experience, leadership and workplace success. To contact Shaun with questions, or to book a speaking engagement for your company, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +1-613-836-3559.