We’re all customers, every one of us. And to some extent, we all serve customers, whether we work for someone else or we’re self employed.

A group of us, who are self employed, talked the other night about the customers we’d like to fire... those people that suck up gobs of time and still belittle you publicly, or who are never, ever satisfied. While we all have bad days and have bad experiences at the hands of sales people with attitude, I wonder how many of us would pass the good customer test.

Circle the answer that feels right for you.

Yes No If my daughter misses her weekly piano lesson, I don’t have to pay for it. Right?

Wrong. You have contracted to purchase a specific period of time at a specific price and if you don’t use the time, it’s only decent business experience to pay for the time.

Yes No I forgot my hair appointment. I forgot my dental appointment. I don’t have to pay for that.

People in the business of giving service have only their time to sell. If they’re not bending over your head of hair or working in your mouth, then that appointment is gone forever; they can’t bill somebody else when you don’t show. A good customer pays for appointments they miss. Better still, a good customer calls ahead to cancel in enough time the office can redirect time efficiently.

Yes No Last week I spent an hour choosing a lamp that would be perfect in my living room. I’ve changed my mind now, and I don’t want to add lighting to the living room at all. It’s just fine to take it back, isn’t it?

Not really. We’ve come to expect that anyone in retail will take back anything at any time for any reason and refund our money. Usually we’ve destroyed the package, thrown away the protective wrap, and lost the warranty. We’ve lost sight of Satisfaction Guaranteed or Money Refunded and replaced it with Changed My Mind, You Owe Me Big Time.

Yes No I went to Kitchener to buy my new vehicle because I could save $450 on the purchase price because they have a huge volume. But, I’m going to take my new car to my Barrie dealership for all my warranty work and after care. And that’s just fine.

We’ve come to expect it, but it isn’t really fair to the dealership. Think about it... you’ve saved $450 by buying your car (or your computer) somewhere other than your local person who’s employing local people and contributing to the local economy. Where’s the fairness in expecting the person who did not benefit from the sale to do the maintenance work (or give you advice or service on your computer software problem)?

Yes No You’re sitting in the local coffee shop with a group of friends and find yourself complaining about the service you received during your last book purchase. You haven’t mentioned this to the owner or manager from whom you bought the book.

Really mean spirited. When we say anything negative about a business and we haven’t expressed it to the business and given ample opportunity for amends, we’re being not only unfair, but slanderous, too. Every time we open our mouths about a business experience, we’re playing with someone’s reputation. Speak first to the business, not to the coffee shop.

Yes No Ah, I’m ready for a new stereo. I’m shopping around, looking for just the right unit. It has to be small, good quality, with a remote control, in a certain price range, with add-on possibilities. I take a lot of time in each store, each time listening to a patient sales person explaining tweeters and woofers and signal strength, and remote capabilities and disc capacity. I go home to think about it. Do I owe anything to the salesperson who’s given me the consumer education?

You sure do. Most salespeople work on base plus commision. It’s unfair to use their time and product knowledge and then walk in a day later and buy from a different salesperson. Finish your education, say you’re going to need time to think, get their business card and make sure the sale is credited to them when you make your buy. A note letting them know of your decision is a nice touch, too.

Yes No It’s the week after the sale. Surely I can still expect the sale price?

Nope. The sale price is there for a reason. It’s boosting traffic during a slow period. It’s moving merchandise specially ordered for the occasion. It’s stimulating clearing of stock. But it’s got a start and stop date.

Yes No I’m louder with my praise of a business than I am with my complaints. Especially in the coffee shop.

Self explanatory.

Yes No I call the electrician from the Yellow Pages and ask him to walk me through rewiring my bedroom lamp, or hooking up some wires to a panel. Nice free advice for me.

That falls into the “you’re a jerk” category. A tradesperson is selling his or her learned apprenticeship skills. They’re not selling product which they can back up with some advice. You’re abusing them to ask for free instructions on how you can do what they normally charge for.

Yes No I make an appointment with an interior designer for some advice about developing my office space. Along with the designer’s service come decorator services and items. After picking the brain of the decorator, I get my cousin to carry out the ideas.

You’re stealing just as sure as if you reached into their pocket and took product out of it. Chances are you’ll be critical of what your cousin does, too.

Yes No When I’ve had great service, I offer a testimonial, or write the letter with permission for the business owner to use it in his or her own promotional material.

You’re a nice person, thoughtful, and able to put yourself in the shoes of other people.

Yes No I shop the loss leaders at every story... picking up the 19 cent bananas here, the cheap prescriptions somewhere else. And yet, I expect my local grocery store or the drug store on the corner to be there when I need them Christmas Day.

How can we expect loyalty that we don’t give ourselves?

Yes No I book an appointment with a wholistic service and for a specific purpose. When I get there I add on a number of requests... help with this, advice for that. I expect that to be built into the original price, even though I’ve pushed the appointment beyond its original time limit and intent.

Unfair. It has a domino effect on the schedule and ensures that the practitioner will be late for the rest of the day.

It’s possible to go on and on and I’m sure you’ve got lots of your own examples. The point is that we often look at the Customer as King or Queen. But, as one small business person put it... “sometimes I think the customer has run amok!”

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