Don’t Be Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

A few years ago, John Barrier, in Spokane, Washington, asked a bank receptionist to validate his parking slip after he’d cashed a check. With a glance at his dirty construction clothes, the receptionist informed him that he hadn’t conducted a real “transaction” and suggested he make a deposit. The branch manager also refused to stamp the parking ticket (the value involved was sixty cents). So Barrier called the bank’s headquarters in Spokane and vowed to withdraw all of his deposits unless the manager apologized. No call came. The next day, he came back–and withdrew $1 million. And the next day as well! The bank lost a customer with more than $2 million on deposit over a sixty-cent parking voucher.

Customers judge service by the way you take care of the details.  The cleanliness of the bathroom can sometimes trump the quality of the restaurant food.  We also judge service by the sense of fairness and generosity exhibited by an organization.  We once knew a consultant who focused on the pennies of his practice and not the experience of his clients.  The idea of absorbing some of the normal “cost of doing business” was unimportant to him.  He invoiced clients for the stamp used to mail their invoice…and, the secretary’s time spent in preparing the invoice. The invoice almost took two stamps because of the penny wise detail included. His practice lasted only a short time.

Like the parking voucher validation, it’s not the service details in and of themselves that are important to manage–it’s the relative importance attached to them by the customer.  In other words, before you make your people crazy by mandating that phones will be answered within two rings, or three rings, or eight rings, make sure your customers consider that an important service quality factor. View other details from the customer’s standpoint as well. It will save you a lot of headaches and heartaches.

What are the details that matter to your customers?  How can you take care of business in a way that also takes care of your customer relationships?

About Chip&John

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling books. Their newest book is "Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to do About it."
This entry was posted in Customer Devotion, Customer Experience, Great Service is ... and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Don’t Be Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

  1. Lovely story, I wish I had $2 million to withdraw from my bank.

    I think your point about attention to detail is exactly right. If the toilets in a restaurant are dirty I can’t help but worry what the kitchen looks like (and the chef for that matter).

    For me the key thing is to never ever give your customers a reason to walk away.

  2. Don Wagner says:

    I find the story of John barrier to be truly fascinating.

    There used to be a doctor’s office in Wichita, Kansas called the Allergy & Asthma Center, not far from where I worked (Boeing). I came in for my first appointment and was floored by the receptionist’s unexpected rudeness. She loudly and flatly refused to go through my insurance company, demanding that I pay cash on the spot, even though the Clinic was recommended to me by co-workers with the exact same insurance plan, which was honored with no problem. Apparently, there was something about my appearance that deeply offended this person (I was wearing a suit and tie, but had a beard).

    This was 25 years ago, and I still reflect on how demeaning this person was for no apparent reason. So when I read here about John Barrier, it really perked me up to see that sometimes justice gets served quickly and effectively. I am sure the receptionist who flamed me forgot about the incident within a few hours, but the Teller who snubbed Barrier likely still feels the sting.

  3. Great story. I can’t even imagine what happened to the branch manager after the incident. Just like what James Lawther said (first comment): “never ever give your customers a reason to walk away.” That statement is 100% true.

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