Blonde Of The Prairie: Every single someone is a customer

The second you and I were born we became one. Most people were too busy goo-goo-ga-gaing over you to give you the proper title. As we age we should demand being recognized for being one. I’m venturing to guess the entire economic outlook on our city would skyrocket if only we could teach each other that we are one to one another.

The thing about being one is that we too have to recognize all other breathing beings as being one too. But do we? ’m learning that it’s not second nature to recognize it at all.

Being one can be as literal as can be. It can also be one of the world’s best marketing tools. If you want to make money, an impression or friends all you have to do is recognize this in one another.

I want to shop in Valley City all I can. I believe in our city. I believe the more we shop here the more we lock in the possibilities of bringing in new and better products, services and even new businesses. I could go as far as naming names but they must know who they are. They must know how they are. They must know they don’t treat people right or good or acknowledge them at all.

What we were all born as are customers. If you own a business then everyone who opens your door or crosses your threshold is one. We are customers to each other in another sense. As humans we should be there to serve. My neighbor is my customer. My co-workers are my customers. I can walk into a retail location as a customer and take on the workers as my customers. I don’t own a business but I want to please you. I want your time with me to bring you value. I want you to feel like you’ve handled a quality product after you’ve left a moment in time with me. Though you and I in a regular conversation do not exchange money –I want you to feel like you left and got a dividend from me.

You don’t know who you are. How could you possibly? I’ve been using you as my science project for over 8 years and I’ve shared my research with others. I come in to your business as a customer. I need your wisdom quite frankly just to live. I say “Hi” to you and you mutter not a word back. You nod your head without a glimpse of affect in your eyes. My antique doorknob exudes more enthusiasm to see me and your other customers than you do. If it would have been just a time or two that you acted this way it would have been something I could have easily overlooked. Years and years have passed. You don’t see me and you don’t see others as customers. What we perceive as your unhappiness is like a vampire to our spirits –draining us of our lifeblood when we walk in for your help- yet we need your service so we return. You’re not the only one in the only business who affects others like this so don’t feel singled out please. You know that saying about “One bad apple can poison the whole tree?” We have businesses that were once thriving trees that took on bad apples that never smile, don’t acknowledge our presence when we enter and somehow even rob from us internally. And you wonder why we sometimes choose to go elsewhere to purchase our supplies? It only takes an attitude for me and others to drive 40 or 60 miles out of the way just so we can feel that feeling we get when a business is happy to see us. What a simple thing. Just be happy to see someone.

Some businesses in our community are failing. You recognize it. Don’t say otherwise. And hear me when I say loud and clear not all businesses are guilty. The gas station on the corner of Central Avenue called Valley Service makes me feel like I left with a value even though I pay full price for my gas. Northwestern Industries makes me feel like I walked into Mr. Olson’s store on “Little House on the Prairie.” Leon treats me like a customer and in return I feel like shouting his praises while treating him like one too. The tellers at Bank Forward make me feel like I’m their only customer. They smile even when they don’t feel like it, always a conversation and always as if they really care. I think they really do. Oddly, some of my most memorable customer service came from the funeral homes in town. The front desk women at the Sanford Clinic are another prime example of lovely customer service. It’s not rocket science. It’s a smile, an acknowledgement, a remembrance of a past event and a drop of empathy and understanding. They even practice those qualities over the phone. Valley Drug makes me want to come back for every gift I need to buy all because the nice lady simply asks, “Hi Jodi Rae. Good to see you. Can I help you find anything?” I never need help but I crave her asking if I do. The man who works the morning shift at the Burger King window has some fabulous customer retaining skills. I don’t know his name I only know I look forward to seeing him in the drive-thru because of that smile he flashes as I get my egg sandwich or cini-minis and because of the way he says, “Thank you.” He says it like he means it and he’s just an employee. He’s not the owner. He has no incentive to do it other than it feels good to him. There are businesses that harbor remarkable talent in customer relations here locally. The doctor who calls to check on their patients the day after an appointment, the firewood cutter who does an extra cut just to make sure you’re covered for the next cold day, the shop owner who details the interior of your car just because he wanted you to feel clean once your brakes were changed and the eye doctor who sends out a birthday card on your special day each year. Oh and the waitress who writes, “God bless you” in her own handwriting on the back of your food ticket.

I think it’s so important to tell another human in business or not if they have made you feel like you’ve been seen and heard and helped. It’s also important to tell them the opposite. They can’t change what they refuse to acknowledge. Confrontation is not comfortable-but it is necessary. Just make sure you have your facts right first.

A customer isn’t just a customer in a business setting. Your spouse is your customer and so are your kids. If you owned a business that paid every bill you had and afforded you the lifestyle you live would you nag at your customers the way you may nag at your spouse? Of course not. You’d use every charm in the book to keep them happy and satisfied and loyal. Is your spouse currently your customer? Or are they the patron you’re purposefully attempting to make flee your property? You have the power to change that.

Your co-workers are your customers for 8 hours a day or longer. If you treat each other as the most expensive, exotic, rare and breakable merchandise on a shelf your work will never feel like work. It will simply work. Effortlessly. You’ll crave going in for more.

Let’s make Valley City a place where all that come from near and far leave feeling like they never really want to leave and only want to shop more and beg for the services you offer. What can you do to up the care you show to your customers? Eye contact, smiles, handshakes, conversation, greetings, listening, compassion and a minute of your time are just some of the simple ways to get people to come back for more. There are even more elaborate ways but those aren’t necessary if you simply make everyone feel like they matter-and they should!

The person I use as my science project will never change but I will keep showing up as their customer treating them like mine. I refuse to give up on this one because it goes deeper than the way I’m treated. I keep thinking that if I attempt to make this person feel like the most important person in the world to me that perhaps they will at least say “Hi” back one day. What I’m really dying for is to see their smile. Come on people. Smile. It doesn’t hurt and it makes you so much more handsome and pretty when you do. You may change a day, save a life, or just plain old make someone feel good enough to come back in for the big sale. What do you have to lose? A whole bunch. What do you have to win? A customer who speaks to their friends who tell their neighbors who then drive to the community down yonder to tell all those townspeople what a great experience they had at your place of business. The same is true if they don’t. Managers, supervisors, administrators, presidents, owners take note: Train to gain. Take the time to educate and elaborate on the skills it takes to be a legacy of success. Do all you can to retain market share and watch the customers share your market with all they know. Let’s grow. Let’s go. The Rally in the Valley is a good time to start. Remember: Every single someone is a customer. Are you doing enough to keep them coming back or wishing them never to return? It’s up to you and it takes hardly any work. Thank you to all of the customers who treat me like one.

Ingstad lives on the prairie near Valley City and writes this column for the Times-Record.