Thursday, June 06, 2002

Hear the customer


In business, fundamental things apply

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        This is a story about two books, a butcher and doing business the right way.

        Recently, I found myself shopping for anniversary gifts. They're for my wife, Debbie.

        She's a bookworm. So, the gifts are books — yep, I'm quite the romantic.

        Each book has Stardust in its title: Stardust Melody, a biography of Hoagy Carmichael, one of my wife's favorite composers, and Stardust Melodies, a biography of 12 famous tunes, including our song, “As Time Goes By,” from Casablanca.

        Debbie likes her books pristine.

        No rips or premature wrinkles in the dust jacket. Pages clean and straight. Covers secure. Open the book and hear the glue giving way. For the first time.

        In short, she likes her books new. Not used. Or abused.

        Business calls took me to the Kenwood Barnes & Noble and Norwood's Joseph-Beth. Both bookstores pride themselves on their huge selection and knowledgeable staff. They also encourage browsing. Strategically placed seating helps patrons decide whether to buy.

        Two well-thumbed copies of Stardust Melody were on display at Barnes & Noble.

        Smiling, I told a clerk about my needs: Gift book. Pristine condition. And what I found: Two copies. Neither passed muster. Any more in stock?

        “Two copies aren't enough?” she asked.

        Next stop, Joseph-Beth.

        Stardust Melodies stood on a presentation stand. The dust jacket was puckered.

        Again, I told my story to a bookseller.

        “This one,” she said, “looks pristine enough.”

        Not for my bookworm.
       

Service, please

        Maybe I'm too high maintainence. Too persnickety.

        Not so, said Andrea Dixon, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati.

        “You have a set of requirements,” said the specialist of behavior in sales, service and customer satisfaction. “Those clerks broke the first code of customer service: They weren't listening.”

        She explained how this code is routinely broken by today's technology and the decline of the family business.

        “Our multitasking society does not permit people, and people don't permit themselves, to stop and think about what others are saying. People have to be trained to do this.

        “That training,” she added, “used to be done in the home, or the family business.

        “All businesses used to be family run. You had to treat customers in a reflective manner.”

        That was good business and being a good neighbor.

        “You might sit next to them at a school play or have to shop at their store.”

        That reminded me of a visit I made last week to John Stehlin's Meats in Bevis.
       

Family business

        Dick Stehlin, a member of the butcher shop's founding family, offered me a piece of cake. He was celebrating his 30th year cutting meat.

        What an accomplishment. Thirty years at the same job. Imagine the steaks he's cut, the cottage hams he's handled, the miles of sausage he's stuffed.

        Dick beamed about his milestone. His pride seemed ready to pop the stitches on his apron.

        Andrea Dixon was right about family businesses being reflective.

        Dick and the other butchers at Stehlin's are always asking questions. “How does that look? Is that what you want?”

        If the bacon isn't lean enough, if the steaks aren't the right thickness, the butcher glady goes back to the cooler and emerges with something better.

        It's all about pleasing the customer.

        Maybe I could persuade Stehlin's to start carrying books.

       
       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.
       

       



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