ARBOR OUTLOOK: Customer service, road trips and George Jones

Margaret R. McDowell
Margaret R. McDowell

"Don't rock the jukebox . .. I want to hear some Jones; 'Cause my heart ain't ready ... For the Rolling Stones." — from "Don't Rock the Jukebox" as performed by Alan Jackson

During a long auto sojourn some 40 years ago my husband and I first discussed our widely divergent musical tastes. I like show tunes, jazz and classical music; he favors country, blues and old Memphis soul. 

He looked at me in wonder from behind the wheel and said, "You really don't like George Jones?" When I assured him that I had lived quite happily without benefit of George, Merle Haggard and Joe Simon, he said, "Well what did y'all listen to up there in Chicago while you were growing up?"

"On the northwest side? Polka music, mostly," I said.

So we've learned to settle for podcasts and conversation on long car trips, rather than assault each other's ears with the radio. This humorous conversation came back to me recently as I shopped one of my favorite stores, a retail outlet that once played wonderful classical music for its customers. On this day country music was invading my senses as I wandered the aisles.

The manager appeared nearby. With a smile, I said, "What happened to the lovely classical music you guys used to play here?" He said, "Well, our employees like country music, so we play it."

Question: Is it more important for the employees or the customers to be happy? As everyone knows, without customers, there are no employees. So temperature settings, musical background, ambience, all the things that attract or repel customers, wouldn't retailers want to give preference to the folks spending money in the store, rather than acquiesce to the musical tastes of those stocking shelves and manning registers?

Exceptional client service in America is the last best hope for brick and mortar retail. Sam Walton said as much years ago: know more about your products and offer outstanding customer service. How customers are addressed, in person and on the phone; how retailers respond to their requests; the attitude with which complaints and concerns are handled; the professionalism and courtesy with which they’re treated; the atmosphere that is created for shopping, all these things determine whether someone returns again to spend their dollars.

Who among us hasn't despaired at endless phone prompts while attempting to execute a simple business transaction? An exceptional, personalized shopping or retail experience, one that leaves a customer with a happy glow and a desire to return, can potentially help retail compete. On-line delivery is here to stay and is growing ever stronger: it’s part pandemic and part business evolution. But we all love the occasional, wonderful, in-person shopping experience.

Owners of brick and mortars must ask themselves: How can my store differentiate itself and compete? The answer begins with customer service. The customer is not always right. Some are rude, interruptive and want something for nothing. But the vast majority want a pleasant, helpful shopping experience. Providing it is the first step toward competing.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, author of the syndicated economic column "Arbor Outlook," is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.