Service With A Smile



Hal Becker needed a gift. So he walked into a store, quickly found his purchase and then stood in line to check out and waited . . and waited. “There was only one clerk at the counter and two floating around the floor,” Becker says. "I asked one of the other two working at ‘Veronica’s Drawers’ if she could ring me up. She said no; neither of them were trained on the register.”

His experience at the “well-known” store is just one of 50 stultifying stories Becker, 44, shares in his latest book about customer service, Lip Service: Calamities, Catastrophes, and Other Curiosities of Customer Service. It’s the Solon resident’s follow-up to his national best seller about effective salesman-ship, Can I Have Five Minutes of Your Time?

But the author and sales trainer - who also makes some 170 presentations a year throughout the country to companies including IBM, Disney, KeyCorp and American Greetings - says he did not write Lip Service to portray the service industry in a negative way. “The key to this book is to laugh a little, have some fun reading . . . and then ask yourself, What insight does this give me?" he writes in the introduction.

The former number-one salesman for Xerox says some keys to good customer service include training, ongoing training and a positive attitude. Sound like common sense? Becker says it is, but people forget they must take ownership and be “proactive, not reactive. Managers should act as a coach,” he says. “Most companies don’t understand that philosophy.” He does stipulate, however, that enthusiasm can’t be taught, “but it can be constantly reinforced.”

In addition to pointing out the mistakes companies make, Becker’s book gives equal time to “What Should Be Done.” For instance, in the above example, he suggests that the company simply cross-train its sales force so that all employees know how to use the cash register.

Becker takes that approach one step further with the last third of the book; his top 10 list of the best companies. Among them: Walt Disney World, Lexus, L.L. Bean and Northeast Ohio’s own Mueller Tire ("If Mueller Tire finds a nail when rotating your tires, they fix it for free”). His favorite, though, is Southwest Airlines, because they have fun doing their jobs.

Speaking of humor, although readers won’t find the actual names of companies Becker targets in Lip Service, it’s fun to guess. “Printo’s,” for example, inspired him to write the book when its employee gave him a 130 a.m. Sunday wake-up call he won’t forget. “OfficeStuff” all but told him to stuff it. And “Lending-A-Ton Bank” gave him a run for his money more than once.

But we can’t resist playing devil’s advocate: What about just plain nasty customers? “People often ask me, ‘Isn’t the customer always right?‘” he says. “I tell them, ‘No, they’re almost always wrong.’ But they’re always in charge. The best companies know that.”

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