There’s an obvious answer to this. You’re already rolling your eyes and supplying it in your own mind.
“Customer service matters to you because you’re a business. Crappy customer service tends to lead to unprofitable, poorly-regarded businesses. Duh.”
And you’re right, of course! It would be awfully silly for literally any company to say, oh, customer service is totally unimportant. Nobody with a lick of sense would ever run a business with deliberately bad customer service.
But it’s more than just “gotta make money” for us here at Tomboy Toes. For us, it’s personal.
Let me tell you a story. A true story. A story of four shoe stores.
Store number one, I walk in. I shyly stand back, ogling the men’s shoes over the shoulder of a man whose feet are infinitely more likely to fit those super nice oxfords than mine are.
The employee in the store heads for the guy, spends a good ten minutes talking to him, trying to help him.
When finally he leaves, I am left standing there, finally able to navigate to the styles I’m interested in.
The employee ignores me.
For five minutes.
I leave without so much as picking up a shoe.
Store number two!
This time, the crowd of shoppers is all women – all on the left, looking at some perfectly nice pumps and sandals that just aren’t my style. I head to the right side of the store.
I pick up some shoes. I mentally earmark the ones I like most, the styles, the colours.
I look at the prices. Not a single one under a hundred dollars, but that’s fine. I’m out shopping for a luxury item, a special treat for myself.
At last, I catch the eye of a sales associate. She has tried several times to help the people on the other side of the store, who keep telling her they’re fine, just browsing. She has not approached me.
I give her the benefit of the doubt. I assume that with my timid, reluctant body language, I’m not exactly projecting “high purchase intent”!
“Did you need any help?” She asks, when I’ve worked up the courage to look her directly in the face.
“I was wondering if there’s any chance that you carry any of these styles in the equivalent of a women’s size seven?” I can already see from her expression that the answer is no. “Or if maybe you have something in a similar style from the women’s section or junior section?”
“No,” she says, with a disdainful expression. “These shoes are only in men’s sizes.” No apology, no suggestion for other places I could try. I feel ashamed for even asking.
Store number three is completely empty.
I go and stand in front of the men’s shoes. I do the same thing, picking up the ones I like, picking out the features that appeal to my sense of style, comparing the shape of one pair to another – knowing it’s mostly futile.
The two employees who are in this totally empty store with me completely, utterly ignore me for the five minutes I spend looking at shoes.
I decide not to bother asking.
Store number four.
It’s busy, but it only takes a couple minutes for an employee to ask me if I need any help. I repeat my semi-hopeful entreaty:
“I was wondering if there’s any chance at all you’d carry these shoes or something similar in a size that would fit women’s size seven feet?”
To my surprise, the sales associate - a man, who I unfairly assumed would be even less amused by my fashion choices than the female associate had been – seems immediately sympathetic.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think so. I can check in the back to see if we’ve got anything that might be close. Let me go do that real quick.” He does, then comes back. “Sorry, no luck.” The apology sounds genuine. Then he suggests three other stores to try, with the caveat that my best bet will probably be to look for shoes meant for young boys.
Now, here’s the thing I didn’t tell you about that story. On that shopping trip, I went into ten different stores, not four.
And there was still only that one customer service experience – one in ten! – that didn’t leave me feeling like a complete and utter deviant for wanting shoes that said “Bond” instead of “Bond girl”.
That’s why customer service is important to me, personally, as the owner and founder of this company.
People looking for niche products have had more than their fair share of crappy customer service. Just the experience of not being able to find what you’re looking for is demoralizing and makes you feel like you’re weird for wanting it – it’s so much worse when the employee (consciously or unconsciously) contributes to that sense of being unusual or strange for a desire as harmless as wanting nice shoes.
Anyways, this long, rambling story comes back to one core point: every time a customer comments on the high quality of our customer service, it makes me feel amazing. Not just because I’m trying to make a sale – but because I’m trying to make a difference in the shopping experience of people who deserve, for once, to be treated like they’re important and like their feedback and their sense of style are valid and are valued.
Why am I writing this blog post, today of all days?
Well, today we had a really nice review posted online specifically metioning the quality of our customer service, plus today one of our customers included a little gift in with the pair of shoes she’d sent back to us to be exchanged for a smaller size. So forgive me if I’m feeling like, at least today, we’re doing a darn good job of living up to my personal ambitions of providing that better experience.
And you can bet I'm going to use that wonderful gift as part of an outfit some time in the near future.