Thursday, December 5, 2019

'Miracle on 34th Street’

Mustang survival child's PFD life vest Amazon

 Mustang survival child's PFD life vest


Before I started at West Marine I’d been an avid customer of Boaters’ World (whom WM effectively put out of business).  But they didn’t hire me and when I started at WM I was still getting the BW catalogues and the people in the store all knew me well.  One day a customer at WM came in asking about a Mustang child’s life preserver in an advertisement.  I realized it was a BW ad and that she had mistaken WM for BW; so I tried to find something in the store that would serve for her.  But she wanted the Mustang brand; and (at the time) WM didn’t carry it.  There was really no way to get any money out of her.

So my socially-responsible side came out and I dialed a number I knew well.  ‘Hello, Joe; it’s John over here at West Marine.  I’ve got a customer here with an ad for this Mustang life jacket; do you have that in stock?’

Joe, at Boaters’ World, seemed like he thought this exchange quite bizarre.  Of course he knew who I was and that I’d been a customer; but he had probably never received a call like this from any West Marine staff ever.  ‘Yes, John; we do have that in stock; it’s right here.’  (Good answer, by the way.)

‘Great, Joe; I’ll send her right over.’  The customer thanked me and went off - towards Boaters’ World.

At a West Marine district meeting, at which three stores’ staff were in the room, the manager asked for any peculiar matters we’d encountered, and I related this story.  The entire room of WM associates sat in silence, aghast that they were present on the evening the DM fired me on the spot.  But Melissa only smiled at me; and I told the second half of the story.

It wasn’t two weeks later that I got the (inevitable) call.  ‘John, it’s Joe over here at Boaters’ World.  I’ve got a customer here who needs a part; and we don’t have it in stock; can you help him?’


We’ve all seen the same thing happen in the film Miracle on 34th Street.  I’m here to tell you that it actually works.  As I explained at the meeting, when that woman walked into the store, I had two choices: I could send her away with nothing, and make no money off her; or I could send her away with a clue as to how she might get what she wanted, and make no money off her.  The option of making money off a happy customer was not there.  So I provided for her what she really came for: the information of where she could get exactly what she wanted.  The customer went away happy and would remember where she had got the help.  And the upside was that Joe at BW did return the favor, for the same reasons.

I’ve found that in most businesses, it doesn’t have to be about greedily taking money out of customers’ wallets.  It’s more about providing help that has value.  Customers who see that a vendor has their needs at heart, even to the point of not needing to make money on every single transaction, will call on vendors whom they trust; and that trust will pay its dividends in regular patronage for some time to come.

Implementing a sound policy for customer service is a key area in which retail salespeople can always use fresh ideas.  Call me; and we'll see how we can improve your customers' experience when they're calling on you. 

- JC2

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