Whether it’s “The Old Luskey Philosophy,” “The “Fish Philosophy,” or the “Treat Customers as Guests Philosophy,” every business needs a method for dealing with customer complaints.
And, according to the head of the local Better Business Bureau, the philosophy needs to be coupled with a follow-up plan: act quickly to fix the problem.
“That’s really key to getting to a satisfactory resolution,” said Steve Abel, president of the BBB of Abilene. “The quicker you can get toward a fair resolution, the less problem you’re going to have on down the road.”
Managers or owners of some local businesses with a good track record on customer service agree. Most strive to fix the problem “on the spot” if at all possible.
That’s certainly a part of “The Old Luskey Philosophy,” as practiced at the Luskey’s/Ryon’s Western Store at 3402 Catclaw Drive.
“If they’ve got a problem, I fix it,” said Sonny Dillard, who started with the local store when it was located on North 1st Street.
If the problem can be fixed before the customer leaves the store, it will be. If not, the issue will be resolved as quickly as possible, Dillard said, in order to maintain a good relationship with customers, many of whom are repeats.
“Basically all we have to sell is service,” Dillard said, because customers can get most of the store’s offerings elsewhere.
That’s been the philosophy behind the business since Jake Luskey opened his first store in 1919, Dillard said. “The Old Luskey Philosophy” has been handed down since then.
Dillard said sometimes the store is criticized for having higher prices than some other western wear stores. But, he said, “we’re not carrying any seconds,” only top quality merchandise.
And, since customers may pay $500 or more for a pair of boots, they expect excellent customer service. If a problem arises after the customer wears the boots for a while, it will be fixed or otherwise resolved.
“Whatever it takes, we’re going to satisfy the customer if at all possible,” Dillard said.
When it comes to customer service at United Supermarkets, the philosophy is “treat them like they’re a guest in your home,” said Cale Theilen, director of the store at South 14th and Willis streets.
United, too, adheres to the “fix it on the spot” philosophy, Theilen said. That even applies to situations where the customer is clearly at fault—like dropping a large jar of mayonnaise on the floor and breaking it.
“If anyone drops anything, we just give them another one and go on our way,” Theilen said.
As owner of two XStream Auto Clean locations in Abilene, Tom Brown knows a thing or two about customer service. His efforts were rewarded last fall when his business was the recipient of one of the two Torch Awards given by the BBB.
According to the BBB, “the award is a way of honoring outstanding companies that go above and beyond the normal in ethical conduct toward their customers, suppliers, employees and the communities they serve.”
XStream Auto Clean follows the “Fish Philosophy,” named for the work ethic and practices at the famed Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. Pike Place employees seem to have so much fun at their work that a training video, “The FISH! Philosophy,” was developed by Enterprise Media.
Basically, the “fish philosophy” includes four precepts: play, make their (customers) day, be there (for the customer), and choose your attitude. Brown said the “fish philosophy” is posted in the workplace and is stressed at training sessions.
Brown adds to that a unique philosophy when it comes to customer complaints about service or quality of the car wash—he doesn’t call them complaints.
“Our view is they are not complaints, they are opportunities,” Brown said.
Brown believes most customers don’t want to call about something they’re unhappy about, whether the employees missed a spot or the process took longer than expected. But he welcomes comments—good and bad—from his customers.
He has found that a way to keep a good relationship with customers is to encourage comments and then to actually listen to what the person is saying.
“Don’t be defensive,” he advises. “See this as a growth opportunity.”
Brown’s philosophy also includes apologizing to the customer and offering something to soothe any bad feelings, such as a free do-over.
Troy Bennett obviously knows something about customer service. He has owned Freeway Motors at 2489 S. Danville since 1982. Many people would expect used car dealers to hear constant complaints. But not Bennett.
His philosophy is to eliminate any reason for complaints before putting the car on the lot. Bennett services his own vehicles and makes sure they are in tip-top shape before putting a “for sale” sign on them.
“That’s the best way to do it,” Bennett said. “Good preparation—you can’t beat that.”
As a result, Bennett has been at the same location for 29 years and has developed such a good reputation that his business comes mainly through word of mouth and from generations of the same families.
Another ingredient in a successful recipe for customer service is having a local presence, says Jason Gebhart, director of operations for Suddenlink Communications. Suddenlink, which provides cable, internet, phone, and security services, has an office in Abilene at 902 S. Clack St.
Customers can drop in or they can call. Customer services calls are routed to specialists at a 24/7 call center in Lubbock. Even so, “Lubbock is pretty local,” Gebhart said.
Gebhart said customer service is taken seriously at Suddenlink, “from the CEO on down.” Nowadays, customers have plenty of other options for all the services offered by Suddenlink, so keeping good relations with customers is imperative.
Customers phoning the call center will hear a brief automated message that will direct them to the proper technician, Gebhart said. Most often, that person will be able to handle the situation.
“They try to resolve it right there,” Gebhart said.
The same thing goes for customers walking into the local office. They’ll notice that the first person they talk to most likely can handle the issue. In most cases, they won’t be shuffled from one person to the next.
“We train our employees and try to empower them to handle customer complaints,” Gebhart said.
Gebhart said Suddenlink uses customer surveys to identify issues and fix them. The effort paid off when J.D. Power and Associates named Suddenlink the most improved company in its category, Gebhart said.
But what happens when all the best efforts and best intentions aren’t enough to satisfy a customer who feels slighted or cheated? Sometimes those issues end up in court, but there is another process that could avoid a lawsuit—mediation.
About 10 years ago, the BBB and the Duncum Center for Conflict Resolution, located on the Abilene Christian University campus, partnered to form the West Texas Mediation Center. The center’s mission is simple: to make available a low-cost dispute resolution process for small claims between area businesses and their customers.
The BBB’s Abel said mediation is suggested when conciliation fails. Sometimes there are legitimate positions on both sides that just can’t be resolved through talking and negotiating between the two parties. The beauty of mediation, Abel noted, is that the process doesn’t end with a winner and a loser like with a lawsuit.
“Neither side gets everything they want,” Abel said. “Each side gets something they want.”
Joe L. “Joey” Cope is executive director of the Duncum Center and Jerry Strader is the “mediator-in-residence” for the West Texas Mediation Center.
Cope explained that when the West Texas Mediation Center opened in 2002, members of the local bar association were contacted and a number of them volunteered to help with mediations.
All cases mediated at the center come through the Better Business Bureau and are conducted for a small fee. Cope and Abel both said they would like to see more disputes resolved through the mediation process.
“We don’t see as many cases as we would have imagined,” Cope said, with five or six being mediated each year.
However, that may be a good thing, he said. The BBB uses basic mediation techniques, so many cases are resolved at that level, rather than proceeding to mediation, Cope said.
The mediation process is voluntary and no legal advice is given. The mediator, usually Strader, helps the opposing parties negotiate a settlement.
“He doesn’t say, ‘this is what you ought to do,’” Cope said.
Cope said mediation cases come from a variety of business types but that more come from construction and remodeling issues than any other.
The center also handles some arbitration cases, including Lemon Law cases involving new car issues. With arbitration, the case is heard by one or more arbitrators. The arbitrator, or the panel, makes a decision in the case, unlike mediation where agreements are voluntary and made exclusively by the parties involved.
An advantage of both mediation and arbitration as opposed to a legal case is confidentiality. Cases settled in court are a matter of public record and may be publicized. Mediation and arbitration are private transactions.
Going through a mediation or arbitration process allows both sides to speak their mind and to be heard. Cope said sometimes that’s all the aggrieved party wants.
“The other side finally heard my story” is a common reaction, Cope said.
Also, a simple explanation that caused the problem may surface during mediation that didn’t come up before. For example, Cope said, a contractor who didn’t show up for work may have a legitimate reason, like his wife had an emergency appendectomy. If the contractor didn’t mention that, the customer had no way of knowing.
“People have an opportunity to be understood,” Cope said.
Hopefully, Cope said, the process will lead to an understanding and a healing that will allow the parties to do business in the future.