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Customer Service:

How Far Would You Go to Help Your Customer?

Ranger Kidwell-Ross, editor

The recent tornadoes in Alabama spawned extreme destruction – as well as a story about how far a sweeper manufacturer employee would go to help a customer.

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

I lived in Huntsville, Alabama between about 1980 and 1989. I still have a number of friends there, so was especially concerned when I heard about the tornadoes that had cut huge swaths through the area.

Although I'm grateful that none of my close friends were badly hurt or killed during the storms, the tragedy stories ran deep and affected virtually everyone in the region. The audio interview I taped with Mark Schwarze, President of Madison, Alabama-based Victory Sweepers, Inc. after the storms provided a first-person insight into the damage and destruction wrought in the area.

However, the topic for this editorial actually stems from a more chance conversation I had with long-time friend, David Crews, who is also Victory's National Sales Manager. We spoke on the phone about three days after the storm – well before power had been restored to either his home or to the Victory or Schwarze Industries' factories.

As an incidental sidenote to what it was like to go through the tornado (coincidentally, Crews' had a shed damaged several weeks before by a smaller, localized tornado), Dave Crews mentioned what he'd gone through to get a Victory customer his sweeper the day after the tornadoes hit.

Customer Satisfaction Guaranteed "The customer was on the way down here when the tornado came through. He was over halfway here and very determined to keep going in order to pick up his new sweeper. So, to try and make that happen, the day after the tornadoes I picked my way through all the back roads to get to the Victory factory. I knew that there were some paperwork issues that still needed completion. The problem was that there was no power at the Victory Sweepers factory or anywhere else in the region.

"We still wanted to find some way for him to actually be able to take delivery the next day when he would arrive. However, that was dependent upon the completed paperwork getting to the finance company. I tried to get my computer going long enough to make it happen, but it was extremely slow going. In the end, I had to connect with three different battery backups at the plant in order to finally get the needed changes done and a copy printed out. There was, of course, no way to then fax anything or to get onto the internet."

Crews wasn't stymied, though. Paperwork in hand, he headed north into Tennessee determined to keep going however far it would take to find a business that was open and where the power was on. Surely, he reasoned, under the circumstances they would let him use their fax machine.

By this time the roads were crammed with people going north to try to get fuel and supplies. Normally a trip of under half-an-hour, it took over two hours to get to someplace with electrical power and a fax machine. This turned out to be a John Deere dealership.

"The folks at John Deere were totally gracious in letting me send the fax," said Crews. "I faxed what was needed up to Sovereign Bank and slowly navigated my way back home. Then, a couple hours later I got a call (he had left his business card at the Deere dealership) from the office manager at John Deere with some bad news: they'd noticed that the fax I had sent had not gone through after all.

"So, I drove back up to John Deere, where the office manager gladly re-sent the fax. This time we got a confirmation that it had gone through, but before I headed home I also called Sovereign to make sure they'd received the info, which they had." By this time, about 5 hours of travel time had elapsed.

The next day, the customer arrived to take delivery. However, before Victory management could release the sweeper they had to get the completed paperwork back from Sovereign Bank. So, Crews went back to Tennessee, in search of a (hopefully closer) business where he could receive a fax.

"This time I took a different route and spotted the lights on at a firm called Brown's Construction, which was perhaps 45 minutes closer. I stopped to see if they would let me receive a fax sent to their fax machine, which they said was fine. However, that's when things got even more complicated.

"When I spoke to my contact at the bank, Tracey Colwell, she broke the news to me that there had been a number transposed; when they'd sent the original document an 'A' had been changed to a 'B' on the serial number. So, it wasn't valid."

The technicality meant the bank couldn't wire the money and so the customer couldn't take delivery of the sweeper. And, there was no more battery power to get the computer going again. At that point, the whole process seemed to have been for naught.

That's when Sovereign Bank switched its level of customer service into overdrive, as well. Given the circumstances, the Sovereign Bank management team – Tracey and her staff – made the command decision to follow through with the wire transfer, authorized Victory to release the sweeper to the customer and decided that they would wait to get it all straightened out when they could. The faxes were then sent and the customer was able to get on the long road home with his new sweeper. Mission accomplished.

I hope you use this article to think back on your own customer service challenges. How far have you gone to 'WOW' a customer? If you care to offer a story along those lines, please feel free to let me know.

As always, the articles in this issue are designed to help you find crucial insight for your business. My hope is you find they all help in one way or the other. If you have ideas about articles you'd like to see in the future, please let us know that, as well. Our goal is to write about what you want to read. And, if you have a sweeping-related need please contact us about it. We'll try to assist in any way we can.

I routinely reference articles and studies, provide information from my "Fundamentals of the Power Sweeping Business" manual and put contractors and city officials in touch with others who may have answers to their informational needs. By the same token, if you have a story you can provide, additional information on any of the topics we've covered – or need more details – please let me know. I'll be glad to help if at all possible.

By the way, if you don't have a listing yet in our Contractor Locator section, you are missing out on what is arguably the best advertising value in sweeping. At the same time, you'll be helping to keep online and active.

Good Sweeping!
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