The Nameless Driver, November 2011
Long Island has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Our town has its own beach on the ocean and The Lovely Marianne and I go there all summer long to sit and read and just be.
We were walking across that beach and toward the parking lot at the end of a perfect day last summer. I noticed some garbage left in the sand by people who didn’t care, so I picked it up and carried it to the trash can, which was right on the way and no big deal. I didn’t give this much thought. I just did it.
I’m old enough to know better than to expect everyone in this world to do what’s right, so I just do little things each day that are not exactly my job, but what the heck. Why not me? It doesn’t take much effort to bend down and pick up a bit of trash on the way to the car. It keeps the place beautiful.
It also doesn’t take much effort to help a customer who’s having a problem, especially if they didn’t cause that problem. If you can help, I think you should, even if it’s not exactly your job.
For the past two summers, Torrington Supply in Connecticut has invited me to speak at an August event that they hold for their contractor customers. They host the event in what has to be the Wedding Capital of Connecticut, and, so far, they’ve done so on blue-sky, perfect days. Hundreds of contractors show up for this free event and Torrington Supply works with their vendors to keep their costs at a minimum. Sponsorship is a lovely thing. Everyone wins.
Torrington’s event goes on all day long and on into the evening, with good food, drinks, tabletop displays of what’s new, raffles, a bunch of interesting speakers, and a big staff that knows every contractor’s name as he or she walks through that door.
I was talking about The World of Green Heating this year. I was on for three hours, showing photos of heating systems I had either visited or researched from around the world. Things are changing so quickly around the world these days, and even though new construction is in a slump in the U.S., Torrington wanted to open their customers’ eyes to the possibilities. They wanted them to think, dream, and feel positive. Hey, we were in the Wedding Capital of Connecticut.
Whenever I’d done with a talk, there are always those who will come to the front of the room with questions, or just to say hello. On this day, though, there was a contractor who wanted to tell me about Torrington’s driver, who is nameless to me, but that’s part of the charm of this story. Nameless people often make all the difference in a business.
The contractor told me that one day, the driver delivered some goods to him, and one of the things in that delivery wasn’t what it should have been.
“I told the guy it was okay,” the contractor said. “It wasn’t something I needed that day, and I would call his office later and get it straightened out. It wasn’t his fault, so why should I start in with him.”
I wondered why he was telling me this, and then I figured he was going to go into a rant about how Torrington let him down and cost him time and money. People who feel slighted like to bitch about it, and they’ll tell everyone they meet, especially if that someone happens to be a magazine writer. So I listened and I waited.
“So the driver tells me he’ll be right back, and he goes out to his truck,” the contractor said. “I’m watching him and see that he gets on the phone. He comes back in a few minutes and tells me he straightened it all out. There never should be a reason why I should have to call the company for something like this. Not when he’s right there. He works for the company and he can fix it. And he did.”
I was thinking about the trash on the beach. It really doesn’t take much effort to bend down and pick it up, even if it’s not your job.
“This is why I buy everything from this company,” the contractor said.
“Because of the driver?” I asked.
“Well, yeah,” he said, “the driver. But also because the rest of them are like that as well. It’s the culture of the place. They just fall over each other to help you. I just wanted you to know.”
More contractors, those who had work going on that day and couldn’t make it to the seminars, were showing up for the tradeshow after my talk. I watched as they walked in and the Torrington people greeted them by name and with smiles. “We’re so happy you could make it! How are you?” I watched all of this and I nodded to myself. This is the stuff that makes a difference. People buy from people they like. People buy from people who care about them. People buy from people who step up and do the little things rather than say, “That’s not my job.”
It is your job.
Some companies foster this attitude and soar. Have you ever walked into an Apple store? Any Apple employee in that store can, and will, help you, and almost instantly. They know that without you, the customer, they are out of business. Their response to customers is a culture, and it didn’t happen by itself. Apple worked at it. They see their customers as members of their tribe and they treat each person who walks through that door like family.
There are other companies that smack down employees who stray out of their assigned job descriptions. These are the companies that have drivers who think they’re just there to drive the truck. They don’t get involved in sales, even though we’re all involved in sales. They’ll deliver the mistake and then shrug. Not their job. Call the office. I don’t care if that wastes your time and money. It’s the company’s mistake, this said as though that driver was not the company. He is the company.
The contractor who gets treated that way will leave the moment the competitor shows him a few bucks in savings to make the switch. Why shouldn’t he?
Companies like that are short-sighted. If Customer Service has to take care of something the driver could have fixed with a phone call, Customer Service is going to be busy, backed up, and cranky. And then these companies will either have to go to the expense of hiring and training more Customer Service people, or more likely, just letting their customers hang on hold for a while longer.
Your call is very important to us. All our operators are currently taking care of other customers. Please hold. Your call is very important to us.
The customer will hang up in frustration, and the Customer Service people will either never know, or worse, think it’s good that the guy hung up. That’s one less pain in the butt to take care of.
I think you get what you give in the wholesale end of this business. If you build a culture such as the one that Torrington Supply has built, you get customers who hang around at the end of a seminar just to tell the speaker about the nameless driver and to rave about the company. There was good food and free booze in the next room, but that contractor waited on line to tell me about the driver. He wanted me to know. And after he told me, I wanted you to know.
You build a great business on little things that mean something to your customers. You build a great business by having every member of your team bend down and pick up that small bit of trash and carry it to the trash can over there. It doesn’t take much effort, but it makes a huge difference in the long run.
It’s the culture you build that defines you, with or without a name.