The customer is number one

November 30, 2003|by BILL KOHLER

The Ford Motor Co. had a catchy slogan a few decades ago: Quality is Job One.

I agree with that, but let me add another wrinkle: Quality may be job one, but the customer is number one.

Customer service continues to be a measuring stick for successful and failing businesses around the globe. The ones that are successful seem to get it through their thick ledger books that the customer is always right and businesses - within reason - should exhaust all efforts to satisfy the customers.

It seems that some businesses - big and small, retail and service - are forgetting that if the customer wants his money back after he gets some really sour lemonade, he should get it back. If he doesn't, he's going to hitch his wagon to the lemonade stand down the street that not only serves sweet, cold lemonade, but serves it with a money-back guarantee.


I know this is a somewhat troubled economy - although you wouldn't know it by the hordes of shoppers at the local malls and Prime Outlets dropping plastic on counters like it was real money - but this is when the cream rises to the top.

Several recent experiences with terrific and horrific customer service inspired me to bring up the issue. As I thought about this subject, I wondered why should anybody care what I think?

Then it hit me: I am a customer! My family members are customers! My coworkers are customers! We're all customers!

Heck, we just want them to treat us the way they would like to be treated, right?

Customer service also was a big point of emphasis at The Herald Mail during 2003 and will continue to be in 2004. We attended seminars, held discussions, received telephone pointers and made it an important part of our individual goals for the year.

At first, it may not have seemed all that important and vital, but the more you think about it, our customers are number one. Our readers are the boss. Without them, we have no eyes to please with our photographs, no minds to inform with our stories and editorials and no savage dispositions to soothe with our comics section.

A newspaper should continually move to rededicate itself to the customer. We are doing this by adding more training, increasing our accuracy, adding staff, re-examining our appearance and always evaluating our content.

Businesses should do the same. When I worked part time at a Kohl's Department Store a few years back (where I was named the store's first Customer Service All-Star by the way), the company's headquarters would send in secret shoppers to gauge customer service through its core people - the associates who work out on the floor.

Kohl's lifers would tell me how the secret shopper program was around when the retail chain had only a handful of stores in Wisconsin. They said the company was always "wild" about treating the customer as the number one priority.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons Kohl's increased sales to $6.7 billion this year from $5.9 billion a year ago. The chain has grown to 542 stores in 36 states and it's always a real pleasure to shop there.

The emphasis on customer service also will play a big role in the future of the Waynesboro, Pa., business community and surrounding Washington Township areas.

With a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a home improvement chain a real possibility to be built on former farm land in Rouzerville, Pa. (we'll have coverage when the Township Supervisors vote on the project on Dec. 15), local businesses shouldn't throw in the towel. Instead, they should be planning now for ways to make their businesses more appealing and accessible to their customers.

I know this isn't easy, but business owners and employees need to commit to retaining their current level of customer service if it is excellent, or plan to take it to the next level.

Although many factors play in to the success or failure of businesses, the bottom line is the customer ain't coming back if he ain't happy.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Morning Herald. Reach him at 1-800-626-6397, ext. 2023, or by e-mail at

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