What I learned about customer service from Anna and writing a book

I’m ashamed to admit but sometimes, I am a tough customer. I’m sure there are a host of reasons for this, but I like to think that it primarily comes down to this – I hold myself and our company, Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, to a very high set of standards and expect the same from every other business I support.

In all but the rarest of cases, no person or business can provide flawless customer service 100% of the time. We make mistakes. Equipment breaks. Technology fails. Communication breaks down. Never in history have we had more tools to make life easier, and yet I believe that Arnold Palmer’s description of the game of golf applies to most businesses, ‘Deceptively simple, yet endlessly complicated”.

Sign above the counter at an automotive supply company in Raleigh. At least their customer service policy is clear…

This past summer, Anna landed a summer job as a customer service representative at a national moving company, fielding phone calls from customers. We were proud that she moved out of the retail arena and into an office environment where she could get a new set of experiences. She learned and grew, and in the process of sharing her days, gave me more than a little to think about when it comes to customer service.

Summertime is not traditionally as busy for Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, but I was heads down putting together my first book, Outside the Oven. It is a collection of my blog posts, organized into sections with a brief introduction on each story. I helped my friend Jack Spain put together two of his books, so I was familiar with the level of effort required. Along with time spent assembling and editing, it was a chance for me to reflect on our business and our customers.

Anna adapted quickly to her new role. After a brief amount of training, she jumped right in to take customer phone calls and help resolve problems. Having worked on the front lines at the nation’s largest chain of coffee shops, she had experience dealing with difficult and caffeinated customers. In this role, however, she was really on the front line, connected only via a telephone and subject to the range of emotions and vocabulary that people on the other line were more than willing to serve up.

She shared stories with us of customers who found themselves in very difficult circumstances. Sometimes this happened through no fault of their own, sometimes due to poor decision making on their part, and rarely an error on the part of the company. But in every case, these were customers, human beings who called for help.

It didn’t take long for customers and the management at the company to realize that Anna had the gift for making people feel good. Sometimes she was able to resolve the issue and get the customer exactly what they wanted, but other times, she could not. But in every case, customers felt better when they finished the call.

I’ve been wanting to write a book for some time now, but like many people, have simply too many thing competing for my time. I made the decision in June to finish this project by the end of July, an aggressive timeline. To get it done, I settled on using Create Space, an Amazon Company to self publish the work.

Like the customers who were calling Anna, I was on a very tight deadline and needed to get things done. Create Space has a customer service feature that allows me to enter my phone number and request a call, right then. Ask any questions about their service and the process of going from electronic files to a printed book, and they were there to help.

I thought of Anna each time I spoke with a representative. In every case, each person I spoke with at Create Space was not only helpful and kind, but made me feel good. Was it a change in my attitude? Or the way they were trained? Maybe a bit of both.

Pick up your copy on Amazon: Amazon
Or get a signed copy here: Anna’s Gourmet Goodies

Anna shot the cover photo at August Turak’s farm and after many hours of editing, checking and uploading the files, the book was ready. I clicked a few buttons, ordered my proof copies, and in a few days this beautifully produced book showed up at my door. It was ‘magical’.

Excited about my new creation and wanting to learn more about how to price and sell my book, I headed down to a local bookstore to speak with the owner. I’ve shopped there in the past and was looking forward to getting some insight from a local expert. Unfortunately, that’s not what I received.

After asking the owner about her experience with self published books and pricing, she launched into a rant about the evils of Amazon, how they treat their employees poorly and how I just gave away all rights to my life’s work. I said nothing, put the draft back in the envelope and left, feeling terrible.

Instead of shopping for a book in her store to send as a birthday gift for a friend, I went home, logged in to Amazon.com and it showed up at my door two days later.

Listening to Anna helped me focus more on what it means to both give and receive great customer service. As customers, we can’t always get what we want. And the truth is we are not always right. In fact, sometimes we are incredibly wrong.

As businesses, it is our obligation to strive to do the right thing for customers. We try but we sometimes fall short. We fail.

With the exception of chatbots and interactive voice response systems, both people on the other end of the line are human beings. Ultimately I believe that great customer service comes down to how we answer this question, “How does the customer feel when we’re done?”

Did Anna learn these skills from growing up watching her parents run a business named after her? Of course I’d like to think so. We’ve always tried very hard to take great care of customers not just because they pay us money, but because they are human beings. We are, after all, in the business of making people feel good.

Anna’s experience reminds me that when it’s my turn to be the customer, the person on the other line is in fact another human being and it’s my responsibility to take ownership and focus on a solution that makes us both feel good. In turn, I’ll still expect the businesses I support to do the same. And when that happens, like my experience with Create Space, it’s more than just great customer service, it’s magic.

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