Customer Creation

I am thinking a lot about customer care this week. I think about this topic frequently because it plays a major role in the analyses we do for our clients when we help them increase their success. But I was a customer a lot last week, and I also received sobering news that rocketed me out of the mundane. I’ll explain.

I met Richard many years ago. Frankly, I was mad when I met him. There had been a problem with my security system that wasn’t getting fixed and I wasn’t getting the attention I wanted. If you want to make me an unhappy customer, take up my time. So up the ADT chain I went.  Richard was the lucky guy who got to drive to my house and see if he could turn an unhappy customer around. “Can I offer a couple of ways we can make this right?” he asked quietly, after listening intently to me explain my frustration. He did, and I was immediately happy with the solution. As he left, he said in his laid-back way, “Don’t ever get mad; just call me if you need me.” And over the years, I would. He was never a man of many words and was as thoughtful and level-headed as they come. He’d come out to advise and we’d catch up on work and family. Then on one of the worst days of my life, after my beautiful mom with Alzheimer’s had been assaulted by her caregiver, Richard drove over immediately. And within hours an ADT team had wired the entire place so that I wasn’t relying only on a little nannycam to protect my mom. Other security companies tried hard to steal me away, but I was devoted to ADT because of Richard. I referred other people to him, and he would take good care of them, too.

Now back to last week. I was talking with a contractor because a leak developed in my living room, under a nearly new roof. “You don’t understand roofs,” the roofing company owner said, as he tried to explain why the problem wasn’t his. “You’re right, I don’t,” I said, “But I do know what water looks like and I know where my roof is. And right now it’s leaking.” A home inspector visit later, we knew the problem was indeed his. I still don’t know much about roofs, but the experience was bad and the glowing recommendations I had provided on the company ceased. The roof fix was cheap, but the loss of a customer-maker was expensive.

Also last week I finally made the switch to Fios. As I do each year, I had called the cable company to see what package they were going to offer me after they hiked my rate. After waiting on hold for 10 minutes, I got a live person. Then we were disconnected. That happened 10 more times and it turned into a bit of a game for me. How bad could they actually be? Always observing customer care, I started saying to people, “Hi, I’m trying to remain your customer but I’m having trouble doing that.” Finally, someone sent me to the Loyalty Department. That sounded like a good idea. I was on hold again and then got a live person. And then… another cut-off.  Standing at the counter with all of my equipment in a box, after cancelling my account, I recounted my story in-person. The representative smiled politely and I left. When I got home, a neighbor asked about the Verizon truck that had been parked in my driveway for a while. He was thinking about going back to cable. I laughed and told him my story. No customer-making that day.

Which brings me back to Richard. Last week I emailed him with a security question, and to follow up on a church and lunch visit we had talked about scheduling for the two of us and his wife. I didn’t hear back right away. It was his friend and ADT colleague, Dave, who called me. “I’ve got really terrible news,” he said. I froze the way you freeze when you know you are about to hear bad news, but I still wasn’t prepared. Dave told me that Richard was killed in a head-on collision in October.

I spent a lot of time thinking about Richard’s death—how short our days really are, how none of us is promised tomorrow, and how important it is to know what we believe. And how we shouldn’t have waited to schedule that lunch. I also spent time thinking about Richard’s life and how he affected and inspired me. His life clearly affected and inspired Dave and the others at ADT. He was a good husband, father, grandfather, friend, employee, and mentor. He was caring, the essence of a team member, and the essence of the quality person that good businesses should cultivate and fiercely protect. He knew how to create a loyal customer, me, who in turn was a customer creator.

You can’t bottle inspiring people. And you can’t bottle great customer service. You have to put great people in charge of customer care and let them do their thing. ADT is an imperfect company just like all organizations are. But it didn’t matter because they had Richard. The goal isn’t to be perfect; it’s to be perfectly good at delivering solutions and at resolving problems when things don’t go quite right. That’s what makes customer-creators. When you get that right, you have a great organization. At Oyster, we frequently use stories to equip clients and to bring content to life in workshops. Richard Shaw’s story will be one of them.

Julie Nielsen is president of Oyster Organizational Development, a firm that helps organizations and individuals be wildly successful through organizational effectiveness strategies and coaching. Julie has over 30 years of experience in helping organizations and individuals succeed. Contact Oyster at to schedule a free consultation on increasing success and revenue.

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