Guest Post by Chip Bell – I Really Miss Ol’ Lee Roy Clark
Today’s post is hosted by Chip R. Bell, noted leader, author, and customer experience advocate. Chip’s new book “Kaleidoscope – Innovative Service That Sparkles” launches this week, and is a solid companion to his previous release “Sprinkles” Chip’s ability to bring sensationally effective customer service ideas and simplify them in a way that empowers anyone to innovate their service is a true gift. “Kaleidoscope” does just that, as does his story below.
Lee Roy Clark was the grocer in my South Georgia hometown. He was my introduction to what it meant to be a “merchant”—courteous and eager to help all who came into his all-purpose store.
The business world is today rediscovering the value of service that permeated Lee Roy Clark’s very bones. This “rediscovery” is made to sound like a breakthrough–something absent from the past, newly found and terribly important. The Lee Roy Clarks of yesteryear get no credit for using methods now attributed to Zappos, Amazon, USAA, Nordstrom and Ritz-Carlton Hotels.
What happened between the 1950s version of small-town service and its present-day renaissance?
Before you chide that superior service involves much more than neighborly manners, let me add that Lee Roy Clark knew a lot about a service vision, customer-friendly processes and service recovery. He did what he did out of a solid grounding in the premise that serving implied an obvious devotion to his customers. Service to Lee Roy was about reciprocal power–his power to provide goods and services coupled with the customer’s power to keep him in business. Lee Roy acted out of a simple belief: “My customers are my neighbors.”
Lee Roy knew what his customers needed and expected. One day my father, a full-time banker AND full-time farmer, stopped in to buy a loaf of bread. “Mr. Bell,” said Lee Roy in his always polite voice, “I ordered you some of those fly strips for your pig house. Last time you were in here, you complained that the flies were about to take away your new farrowing house.” I wonder how many service organizations would stock an item based solely on data gathered through “fair weather” conversation. Lee Roy cared a lot more about service than inventory. And, when my father opted to NOT buy the yellow fly strips, Lee Roy acted neither hurt nor disappointed.
Lee Roy was also effective at recovering from a customer service breakdown. There was no need for a written “service guarantee”—Lee Roy WAS the guarantee. Instead of some version of “$3.00 off if…is late,” “You don’t owe me a thing” was his response. We need more Lee Roy’s instead of merchants who too frequently argue over a 99 cent carton of milk with a customer who, if loyal to that same store, could spend $40,000 over the average ten years they live in a given location.
My grandmother bought an ice cream churn from Lee Roy–the kind grandsons endlessly hand crank to turn thick cream into a summer eve’s delight. It was a July day when she unpacked it only to discover the crank was missing. “Lee Roy,” she complained, “you sold me a bum steer!” Lee Roy drove three miles out in the country with another churn. With him, he brought a fresh-baked apple pie and two gallons of “store bought” ice cream. Now, here is the best part: He sat out in the shade for a half hour with my grandmother quizzing her on her secrets for getting azaleas to grow big and healthy!
I suppose I’m on thin ice implying that it’s possible to simplify a very challenging issue. A few of the complex barriers to replicating Lee Roy’s brand of customer service include corporate bigness, bureaucracy, legal restrictions, diverse customer requirements, increased competition domestically and globally, and a scarcity of committed and competent employees.
Yet, I sometimes wonder if the question of customer loyalty really is simpler than we realize. Perhaps we just need to rekindle the passion to give customers the kind of devotion that guided Lee Roy Clark. It’s possible I am just a romantic, opting for nostalgia instead of accepting the cold reality of the present. But, then again, maybe not!
Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best selling books. His newest book is the just-released Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. He can be reached at chipbell.com.