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Customer Service Lesson: Helping vs. Selling

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Back in 1987, while doing some weekend repairs to my first house and in need of some hardware – specifically, a hinge for a saloon-type door that was coming loose from the wall – I headed to the local Ace Hardware store.
As always, the store employee at Ace who assisted me was attentive and helpful. I had brought the hinge with me, and as he led me to find the replacement parts, he struck up a conversation and asked me how I would be using the part. When I told him, he stopped and said, “You need a different part. If I sell you this, you will be back in here sometime soon. Maybe a few months, maybe a year, but you will be back to replace it again.” He showed me some different hardware to mount the bracket for the door that would make it more secure and save me the same aggravation in the future. And what’s more, it was less expensive than the part that I had originally come to the store to buy.
What can we learn from this? A few things:
• Ask questions. Talk to customers – if appropriate, ask about what they need and how they plan to use it. It’s important to know your product as well, so you can advise them about how to use it.
• It’s not just about the money. The hardware that I purchased was less expensive than the replacement parts I was originally seeking. The Ace employee was more interested in taking care of the customer than just taking his money.
• Most importantly, don’t just sell – help! The nice gentleman at Ace helped me by selling me what I really needed other than what I thought I needed. He helped me.
Do you think I continued to shop at that Ace Hardware store when I needed supplies for future projects? Of course I did … and more than 25 years later I still remember the helpful service and am telling the story.
Do you have a story of an amazing customer service experience that stands the test of time? One that helped make you a loyal customer, maybe even an evangelist for a company?
Think about what made it special and try to extract some lessons that you can use in your own business. Whatever made it so special to you could make others feel the same way and keep them coming back, too.
And while Ace Hardware has claimed helpful as its brand promise, it’s something everyone in customer service should strive to be. Ace is an excellent role model for customer service – 25 years ago, 75 years ago and still today. Simply being helpful to your customers is one sure way to provide amazing customer service.

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