It pays for businesses to go extra mile for customers

The North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce launched its annual Go the Extra Mile program rewarding excellence in customer service last month. The website says: “People encountering great customer service can nominate the individual by completing an entry form on the Chamber website, or by picking up a form from a local sponsor.”

Cash prizes and gift certificates are provided monthly and the grand prize is $1,000 cash for “going the extra mile.” Judging criteria includes: quality level of service, timeliness, money-saving suggestions, positive attitude, team leadership and going above and beyond the call of duty as described by the customer.

The strange thing is that the program only runs from May to August; perhaps customer service is only important when the most tourists are in town?

Remember the days when gas stations were called service stations because they provided the service of pumping your gas and more? Remember when “full service” wasn’t on the sign, because that was the only way it was done? Remember when guys would hurry to fill your tank,  provide a little pleasant banter, squeegee your windshield with zest, check your oil, and do it all with a smile?

If you do remember those days, you probably also used the word “gay” to mean happy and couldn’t understand why people sniggered when you said it. Either that, or you’re at Agawa Indian Crafts and The Canadian Carver on Highway 17, where full service is still offered.

Sure there are full-service gas stations in the Sault and elsewhere, but they only clean your windshield, as opposed to doing your headlights and taillights too. They also don’t seem to be “hopping to it” quite as quickly as Jerry Demers’ employees. His staff are always pleasant and courteous and ready to serve.

We lose something by not having full-service stations. We lose contact with another person. They lose a job. The sense of community changes. Interestingly enough, Oregon and New Jersey have laws against self-service, thus preserving jobs and a way of life.

We can thank Bill Henderson of Winnipeg, Man., for the first self-service station in Canada, back in 1949, but it wasn’t until the 1970s, though, that self-service gas stations started becoming the norm.

I laughed at myself just now, because I have to stop myself from calling them service stations when I pump my own gas, and I pay at the pump. No one is serving me, so it is no more than a gas station.

With gas prices where they are, I expect more than the honour of pumping my own gas. I expect actual service, perhaps including a foot massage when the price is over $1.40 per litre. Since that is never going to happen, I’ll settle for the excellent service at the Canadian Carver, including a free cup of coffee.

I’m not sure how Jerry does it, but businesses should pay attention to what he’s doing.

How do you instil the right attitude and work ethic into your workers? Fear? Reward? It used to be that you wouldn’t have a job unless you took serving customers seriously. Somehow you have to get your staff to stop acting like employees and start acting like owners. After all, how many mom-and-pop shops have you been in where they don’t do their best to provide you with excellent service?

But the onus isn’t only on the employees. It’s also about making employees believe that what they do is valued and important. Service of the customer is without a doubt one of the most important roles in an organization, and yet workers in the service industry often only earn minimum wage, and are poorly treated.

Those hiring also can’t assume that it’s an “easy job that any monkey can do.” I think that WestJet has it right when they say, “Hire for attitude and train for skills.” If employees can’t fit in with service culture, then perhaps a program like Zappos’ isn’t such a bad idea. They pay employees to quit.

Getting back to North Bay’s customer service contest again, though, the cynical side of me says, “What does it say about a community that has to have a contest to remind people to provide good customer service?” But then reality sets in and I have to ask, “What does it say about our community that we don’t have a program like this?”

I only wish I could nominate Jerry Demers and his staff for the North Bay award for everything that they do for their customers.

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