I went to a seminar this morning put on by the Greater Liverpool Chamber of Commerce. The topic was Keeping Customers For Life, presented by my friend Beverley Griffo of Northland Communications. Basically it was a customer service seminar geared towards business owners, talking about how there are some things we allow ourselves and our employees (those of us who have employees anyway) to do that might end up hurting our business in the long run.

What's funny with seminars like this is that most of the people who show up already "get it". For instance, whenever I do a leadership seminar, the people who come already know the principles of being a good leader, so they're coming to reinforce the fact that they're doing it right. The people who really need the help never show up, and I thought about that as I sat in the room today.

For instance, I talked about a bad experience I had in Westchester County at a store with a very famous name. I didn't mention any of the local businesses, members of the chamber, with whom I've also had a bad experience or two, because I didn't want to call anyone out. They weren't there anyway, but that wasn't the point. There was one person there who happens to work at a place now where I had a somewhat negative experience many, many years ago, and, because he was so vocal about how he likes things to run, I did tell him, away from everyone else, what had happened to me. He said it's common in his industry, but he refuses to work in that manner, though he also acknowledged that it's cost him money.

That's an odd concept, for some reason. Can you imagine how many businesses might think to tell you that providing good customer service costs them too much money? Then I thought about it some more; is it a coincidence that those same large companies that we hear about that need to cut costs suddenly adding phone systems that have multiple menus you have to go through just to get to someone who, hopefully, can answer your question? Obviously it means they're trying to cut staff, which is more expensive, and they try to get us to believe it's good customer service, but is there any one of us who believes it is better customer service? Do we enjoy being on the phone four or five minutes pushing menu buttons before we get a message telling us that all customer service representatives are on with other customers, and that our wait time is 15 minutes or less?

No wonder people are surprised when someone picks up the phone these days.