Skillet Spaghetti & Volvos: stories of customer service

mmm...skillet spaghetti... When you hear about customer service it often goes to places like Zappos or Southwest Airlines (links are not to either company’s site), where large companies put trust in their employees and encourage them to create great experiences for customers. My friends Marko and Adam have had experience with each, and detail them in their blogs (linked to above). But how does this translate on a small business level? Well, here are two places that I’ve recently visited that take the time, in their own way, to take care of their customers and encourage loyalty and trust.

Clarence’s Drive-In is in the small town of Unicoi, TN. Unicoi sits in the Cherokee National Forrest along the Appalachian Trail. It’s the kind of place where a street named Jake Hopson Rd likely contains the home of Jake Hopson, because he’s the only one on the road. Same goes for Ricky Buchanan Lane. Clarence’s is a small diner that does amazing but unfussy things with biscuits and gravy, country ham, and my wife’s favorite, fried green tomatoes. And apparently anyone visiting there should be on the lookout for their skillet spaghetti, because the note at the register posts a reminder for the staff of Clarence’s to call one Clara Hawkins whenever it’s made. I’m sure that Ms. Hawkins is a fan of Clarence’s based on their standard menu (otherwise I’d question her palette), but she’s obviously a big fan of the skillet spaghetti, and everyone who comes to Clarence’s knows it too. This is more than just quaint, small-town Americana, it’s a community business that’s looking out for its customers and treating them well. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Clara Hawkins’ phone rings off the hook anytime that dish is on the menu.

Thanks! now go see a movie.

Closer to home is AutoTech, a auto repair shop in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, CA. AutoTech was recommended to me as THE place to take a Volvo for repair and maintenance. In fact, it was someone at another foreign car shop, Dennis Sherman Automotive, that told me that this was the place to go. So not only do I feel good when one mechanic tells me to go to another, specific mechanic because they’ll do better, but I now have positive feelings for the original mechanic as a truth-teller.

Anyway, I went to AutoTech and had a great experience, Thorough, straight-forward explanations of the issues, with a list of other things that will eventually need to be fixed, with recommendations of when I should actually address them, because they’re fine for the time being. They left money on the table, and trusted that I’d be back because of that kind of straight talk. They were right. In fact, the week after I was there, they emailed me a coupon for $50 that was good for me as a new customer, as well as being good for other first-time customers.

So a year later when my friend Marko acquired a Volvo and needed something checked out on it, he called and asked where I took mine. I told him, forwarded the coupon, which had no expiration, and thought nothing of it. A couple of weeks later I came home to find a letter from AutoTech, which is not unusual, as they send them quarterly. But this one was different. Inside was a personalized letter thanking me for recommending them to my friend Marko, and explaining how much they appreciate my trust in them to recommend them to a friend. Also included were vouchers for two movie tickets, and the note mentioned that they hoped that I’d have a fun night out at the movies on them.

Both of these are low-tech, high touch, and make a huge impression. At Clarence’s I HAD to take a picture of the note, though I’ve edited out Clara’s phone #. I’m due a check up for my car pretty soon, and I’m probably more apt to go in sooner than later and thank them for the thoughtful note. These are lessons worth taking to heart. I’m not always great at this (in fact I often fall short), but these are reminders of what a simple note can do. Now if I can just find some good skillet spaghetti in San Diego…