It’s no secret that the better the customer service, the better the chance at success. However, you have to wonder sometimes what people are thinking. This story is based in fact and illustrates why I spend so much time preaching and training my team on the importance of customer service.
About a year ago a gym opened up in my neighborhood and did a great job at promoting the multiple programs and membership levels offered. So good in fact, that they lured me into signing up.
Our neighborhood has an annual fall block party where we all come together and bring food, play games and have a blast. While at the function an interesting neighbor, Stacey, came over and started up a conversation. She asked me if I had been to the new gym that just opened up. I told her that not only had I been but I am a new member and go four times a week. My wife loves their Zumba classes. Stacey just laughed and said I love those classes too. Then her facial expression changed and she became very staid. She said, “Let me ask you something… what is missing at the new gym?”
Puzzled by the change in the conversation, I just muttered, “I don’t know?”
She said, “A smoothie bar! Every gym I have ever seen has a smoothie bar in it or next to it, but not this one. Everyone wants a nice fresh smoothie after a hard work out don’t they?”
If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew Stacey just divorced her fourth husband and made out very well with the cash settlement, I would have sworn that she was about to hit me up for money to invest. Stacey went on to tell me about her ideas for a whole section with supplements, diet programs, and energy bars. All and all it did sound like a good idea. I asked Stacey, what experience did she have running a business? Stacey went on to explain that she had been talking with a large smoothie chain. They provide the business plan, contractors, even managers to run the place efficiently. All she needed was money which she had plenty of after the divorce. I let her continue on and had decided that she already talked herself into it so my job was to just listen and nod in agreement.
A few weeks later I saw a sign go in the window next to the gym that said, “Coming Soon: Smoothie Queen”. (I am leaving out the real name) It wasn’t long before the new smoothie place opened, and at first it was packed. Stacey had a young woman running the place that really knew what she was doing. Inside the shop they offered healthy breakfast & lunch sandwiches, smoothies, milkshakes, and a whole line of health supplements and energy bars. I told Stacey she was going to make a fortune!
Not long after the store opened I noticed that the young woman who used to run the store for Stacey was gone. When I ran into Stacey at the gym I asked her what had happened. Stacey told me that the original girl was given to her by the corporate chain and that she garnered a large salary. Instead, Stacey brought in her niece for a fraction of what she was paying the other manager.
“Besides I already learned everything necessary from the corporate placed manager anyway”, and she gave me a wink and a smug smile.
I told Stacey that there is a lot to running a business and asked if she was sure that was a good idea? Stacey barked at me and said she knew what she was doing and that I was the one who told her how great the place was, everything has been set in place so there is no need for a large salaried manager anymore. Once again, it was obvious that her mind was already made up so I just left it alone.
As the weeks went by I noticed less and less traffic stopping by the smoothie shop. My wife and I decided we were going to have breakfast there before our work out one Saturday morning. We got there and the lights were off and the door locked. I looked at the time and it was 9:00am. The sign on the door clearly said that it opened at 8:00am. I was confused, but just as we were about to walk away a guy walked up and said, “Are they open?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “That figures. You never know when this place is open.”
When my wife and I got home I walked over to Stacey’s house and knocked on the door. I spoke with her and told her about the situation and the comment made by the other potential patron. Stacey didn’t want to hear it. She said that they don’t open till 10:00am so I must have read the sign wrong.
As the weeks passed I heard many people at the Gym comment on how bad the quality and service had gotten at Smoothie Queen and it had almost become a standard water cooler topic.
My wife and I decided that we were going to give them another chance, being that it was our neighbor and we always try to support local businesses. So that Saturday we stopped by the smoothie shop again before going to our workout. This time it was 8:30am and they were open as they should be according to their sign which did state that they opened at 8:00am on Saturdays.
As my wife and I stood there looking over their menu for breakfast options, the woman behind the counter said in a very cavalier tone, “The grill still hasn’t heated up yet so if you want food you are out of luck!”
Really! My wife and I just shook our heads in disgust. As we walked over to the gym, who did we bump into, but Stacey. I told her what had just transpired and that Smoothie Queen had become a standing joke at the gym. While I understand that nobody likes to hear someone tell them their baby is ugly, as a business owner you have to listen to your customers. However, Stacey just gave me an angry look and told me not to go there anymore if it was so awful. A few months later the smoothie shop was out of business.
Once again, last week was the annual fall block party and my wife and I were there having a great time talking with a whole bunch of our neighbors when Stacey came walking up. She butted into our conversation and began droning on about her failed business and looking for sympathy from the block. Many of the neighbors gave her the pity she was digging for and blamed the poor economy.
You see Stacey was the block captain. Which also means she was the one who sent out the invitations for not only the annual fall block party, but also the Christmas party, the New Year’s party, and the Fourth of July party, so it was usually in your best interest to suck up a little if you wanted to stay in the good graces of the neighborhood social scene. Unfortunately, I could not keep my mouth shut.
“You have to be kidding me!” I exclaimed. “Bad economy? Poor Stacey?”
I looked around at the stricken faces of all of the neighbors within earshot, and rubbed the spot on my ribs where my wife’s elbow had landed, but I’m not good at sucking up.
I went on to explain to Stacey, that the reason her business failed had nothing to do with the economy, the location, or anything other than her complete lack of regard for her customers. Not only did she remove the one and only person who understood the business, to save a few bucks at a point when she was making money hand over fist, but she ignored the fact that her patronage was shrinking month after month once she made that change.
She also never spent any time herself, at the shop to understand her customer base, and when I tried to tell her that there were some issues based on my own experiences, she told me to go jump in lake! Her open mouth snapped shut at this point, and she seemed ready to speak, but thought better of it and just stared at me.
It doesn’t take a Harvard business degree to figure out what went wrong here. She was a lazy, selfish, money grubbing, narcissist who never took the time to put her customer’s needs above her own. At that point I figured I had said enough. I took my wife’s hand, and we walked down the sidewalk back to our home.
This story is a perfect example of how easy it is to lose a customer base. You can have the best laid plan and all the money to back it up, but if you forget about the most important thing, your customer, failure is inevitable. Remember that it may take months and thousands of dollars to earn a customer but it only takes seconds to lose them forever. Since then several neighbors have gone out of their way to be extra nice to me. I don’t know if they are hoping I won’t voice my opinion about their business skills, or they liked what I said. My wife says it’s the later. Either way I don’t think I will be invited to any more block parties.