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What Does Caring Customer Service Really Feel Like?

I don’t have any technical advice to share today. Instead, I want to share some stories. I’ve been thinking about how often we emphasize good customer service in the Local SEO world. We tell business owners that the possession or lack of caring customer service can make or break their reputations on the web, typically in the form of user reviews. I would like to share two anecdotes – one negative and one positive – about how my impression was formed of a company’s core values as a result of my interaction with their staff.

The Negative Experience
My husband and I are renters. We live in a small, timeworn house in the country with a big garden. We’re surrounded by beautiful old trees, including fruit trees that must have been planted before we were born. There are large, ranging hedges all over the multi-tenant property, filled with birds, and empty fields of grass that have mellowed to their summer gold just now. This is a rustic area where people ride horses down the road and wandering cows stop traffic. These peaceful qualities drew us to these quiet environs when we rented the house many years ago.
Then, a year or two back, the elderly owner gave over management of the property to a professional local property management company. Overnight, we and other tenants on the land felt the change. Suddenly our sagging row of mailboxes was filled with officious memos from the property management company about dumpster use, high weed mowing, on-site inspections.
Of course, this is the company’s job. They are supposed to manage the property, but the woman put in charge of tenant relations has managed to offend and aggravate many of my neighbors with her style of communication. In my own case, she became obsessed with a vine growing on our house that was growing here before we ever moved in. In attempting to resolve her concerns about the vine, I was the recipient of numerous ill-mannered, petulant and accusatory emails, phone calls and visits from this woefully unprofessional person.
We were willing to comply with her requests, but the disrespectful tone with which she communicated her goals made the transaction extremely unpleasant. I’m still considering whether I should bother to communicate my concerns about this woman’s lack of professionalism to her superiors. One of my neighbors made the effort to write a formal complaint about her own transactions with the property manager, but I’m not sure it would be worth my time to do the same. I am not at all convinced that anyone – the owner or the firm – would actually care about my experience, because my impression of the whole company has been set by my interactions with this person, and that impression is decidedly negative.
Should I ever be in a position to be a property owner who needs a property manager, I would absolutely not engage this company. I haven’t decided what to do about this. My options range from writing a negative review, to writing letters, to letting it go. Right now, I’m just mulling over the very bad taste in my mouth and thinking about what a lack of genuine caring feels like in a business transaction. This woman has signaled to me that:
– She doesn’t like tenants
– She doesn’t trust tenants
– She doesn’t like her work
– She doesn’t care if we have good feelings about the company she represents

The Positive Experience
Fortunately, I can compare and contrast my negative experience with a very positive one. I regularly visit a local farm to do my produce shopping. Over the years, we’ve come to know the farmers and staff there and one of the things that makes the experience of shopping with these people so positive is the way they show how much they appreciate our business. How do they do this?
– They smile and call out a greeting when we arrive.
– They chat about the weather with us (an old country custom).
– They put little extras in our bags, even just a couple of plums or a bouquet of herbs, or they give us a discount on a purchase from time to time, saying, “It’s you guys!”.
– The show us they trust us. Several times, their payment system has been broken and they’ve told us to pay them next time. We’ve even had to insist on writing them an IOU. They were perfectly willing to just let us pay some other time, believing that we would.
– The way they treat all of their customers shows that the staff really likes the work they do. A happy atmosphere pervades this humble, bountiful farm stand.

I don’t think the big difference between the two experiences has anything to do with free stuff or discounts. I think it has to do with the fact that we feel so human when we interact with the farmers. They care about their work and they care about their customers. They really get it that their business depends on a good product and good service and they have earned our loyalty. By contrast, the property management woman shows how little she cares about acting human with the people in her professional life – either she’s on some kind of an ego trip or simply has no social skills – with the result that she has created a cold and nasty atmosphere on a previously peaceful property.
So my thought for you, the local business owner, is that the warmth you genuinely feel for your work really shows. If you don’t feel genuine care, neither will your staff and neither will the customers who make your business possible. Can people be human in and around your business, or is there a sense of pressure to carry out business with impersonal efficiency that is actually harming your ability to build something good in the world?
For some years now, it has been my honor and pleasure to work as an Associate with the inbound marketing software company, Moz, where the tone of business is set by core values summed up in the acronym TAGFEE. The letters stand for transparent, authentic, generous, fun, exceptional and empathetic. I can absolutely attest to the fact that everyone involved with Moz works to live up to these ideals, and the environment they foster is the same as the one I encounter at the farm stand. I have to wonder what would happen to the property management company if they were ever introduced to TAGFEE. I have to wonder what would happen at any business where I’ve experienced bad customer service if they took a heartfelt look at TAGFEE.
My guess is that there would be a lot less negative reviews cluttering up the Internet and a rewarding move towards more human-to-human relations in the business world. I’d like that.