In the good ol’ days, every person who walked into a business was a potential customer and was treated like one. Sad to say, those days are becoming a blur in my memory.

I’ll give you an example that happened to me recently.

We are all familiar with the concept of “one-stop shopping.” The local gas station may have a McDonald’s restaurant attached or could be selling Subway sandwiches or Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Rest stops along major interstate freeways developed that concept long ago. Once all you could get was gas at the roadside respites. Now you can eat, sleep, buy groceries and do your banking — among other things.

Super-sized chain stores added grocery items and fast food restaurants to an already large selection of retail hard and soft goods. The idea was, and is, to keep customers in one place and encourage them to spend their money at one cash register. Talk about convenience and customer service!


My son and I were shopping for a few groceries the other day at one of the newer and larger grocery stores in our area. The new, modern store has all of the major conveniences, including a sit-down ice cream parlor and a small bank, not to mention a customer service area where customers can send a Western Union telegram, buy stamps, mail letters, and buy tickets to major amusement parks and events.

As we were leaving, I decided to stop by the small bank near the exit door. I had a $5 Canadian bill in my wallet from a previous visit to Toronto and wanted to exchange it for U.S. funds.

I was impressed with the fact that there was a “live” person in the bank on a Saturday afternoon — a rarity these days. How many banks have live people to interact with on a Saturday afternoon? Besides, the swipe of my 24-hour ATM card is usually the closest I ever get to a bank.

I asked the young lady behind the counter if she would be kind enough to exchange the bill, knowing that I’d probably get a little less than $3 U.S., based on the going exchange rate (enough to pay a visit to the local video rental store). The first question out of her mouth after I asked was:

“Do you have an account with us?”


“I’m sorry, but you need to have an account with us.”

“To exchange a simple $5 bill?”

“Yes sir, sorry.”

At least she said she was sorry. I went away shaking my head, explaining the situation to my nine-year-old. “That’s what the problem is with customer service,” I told him. “You have to be a customer of theirs to get service.”

The bank was there for the convenience of its customers. It wasn’t there for my convenience. I get it.


Now let’s use a similar (but not identical) scenario for a person who is calling or visiting your place of business.

What if someone called to schedule a service call for a furnace because the company he or she had been dealing with was out of business, or too busy, or not providing good service, and asked “Could you send someone out tomorrow?”

Would you reply, “I’m sorry, did you say you already work with another contractor? We only work with our customers.”

See what I mean? The bank’s logic does not necessarily work in our trade.

I know I’m not comparing apples to apples here, so please don’t send me e-mails pointing out that fact. I know it is standard fare for banks and other businesses to only deal with their customers, and I know there are some cases in our trade where customers should be turned away.

The point is: We aren’t shackled by the same regulations as banks or other similar businesses. Sometimes our quality customer service is what brings old customers back and new customers into our shops. Let’s keep up the real customer service.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 11/18/2002