Of Pennies, Trees, and the Importance of Every Customer

by Ken Mueller on March 19, 2012 · 21 comments

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When our kids were younger and we were living in Connecticut, we lived in a rather busy neighborhood. So in order to teach our kids how to ride their bikes, and allow them some good bike riding time, we would throw the bikes in the car on the weekends and drive a mile or two to the local high school where there was a large empty parking lot.

On our first trip there we found a number of coins that we pocketed. Mostly pennies, but there was also the occasional nickels, dimes, and quarters. On each successive trip we would walk around the lot looking for money while the kids would try to spot coins from their bikes. We soon learned there was a pattern, and that most of the coins were laying near the parking space divider lines. We assume that as people got in and out of their car and were digging for keys, some coins would invariably fall out. We decided to save these coins and began to fill a jar with them.

Additionally, we took the dog for a lot of walks through our neighborhood and would find quite a few aluminum cans and glass bottles. In Connecticut, when you purchased a soda or beer you paid an additional 5-cents as part of the state bottle bill. Then, when you emptied the bottle, rather than just put it in a recycling bin by the curb, you would take it to a redemption center, usually at a grocery store, put it in a machine, and get your nickel back. Well, we would pick up trash on our walks to help clean up the neighborhood, but we also picked up these redeemable bottles and cans. When we got a large number of them we would take them and redeem them for a nickel apiece, and put the money in our jar.

We got our kids involved, and told them that when we got enough money, we would buy something for them; for the family. And that’s how we got our first DVD player. And some DVDs. And more.

Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

In business we’re told to step back and focus on the “big picture” so we have an understanding of how everything fits together, rather than just focusing on our little part of that picture. And this is wise advice.

But on the other hand, when we look at our businesses, sometimes we are so focused on the big picture, that we forget the minutiae.

Don’t miss the trees for the forest.

Some might scoff at us for picking up a penny at a time. After all, it’s just a penny. What good can one penny do? But over time, those pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters add up.

Why should we spend so much time providing great customer service to just one customer. After all, what does just one customer mean to your business? That one person at your check out counter is just one person. They don’t mean much, right?

Sure, we shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees, but without each individual tree, there is no forest.

Every penny counts. Every tree matters. Every customer with whom you have contact is important.

 Of Pennies, Trees, and the Importance of Every Customer
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21 comments
kmueller62
kmueller62

@jarradrwalter thanks for the RT!

ShellyKramer
ShellyKramer

Love this post, Ken. And I think of this often. Thanks for the reminders - can't wait to share.

L_Hawkins
L_Hawkins

@ShellyKramer Hope all is well long time no....hear.

TomBLogue
TomBLogue

Something else that stood out to me: "We soon learned there was a pattern, and that most of the coins were laying near the parking space divider lines. We assume that as people got in and out of their car and were digging for keys, some coins would invariably fall out." 

 

The lesson for me: if you benefit from a specific behavior or circumstance, don't leave it to blind luck. Look for patterns, learn what you can about why those things happen, and you'll maximize your benefits.

 

In other words, do your research.

damanqp1
damanqp1

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Amy Peveto
Amy Peveto

I think something a lot of people miss is that customer service doesn't start as something grandiose — it starts as going the extra mile for a single customer. It's how you treat each individual that makes up your "customer service."

babybabylemon
babybabylemon

@LizJostes Confession: I thought that said penises, trees...

KDillabough
KDillabough

Puts me in mind of the parable, The Young Man and the Starfish:

 

One day, a man was walking on the beach when he saw a human figure moving like a dancer.

He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up.

 

As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

 

He called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"

The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish in the ocean."

"I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?"

"The sun is up, and the tide is going out. And if I don't throw them in they'll die."

"But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach, and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!"

The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, "It made a difference for that one."

 

When we fail to treat each and every customer as a starfish, we're missing the point (and opportunity) completely. Cheers! Kaarina

katskrieger
katskrieger

Great sentiment and so true! Happy Monday!

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

Taking care of one customer is how you get many customers -- there is no question. You make a great point, that each customer counts and each action matters. There are, of course, limits to how much a business can invest in an individual customer without giving poor service to other customers, but IME most businesses never get close to hitting that.

jarradrwalter
jarradrwalter

@kmueller62 You bet, Ken, I enjoyed your post!

ShellyKramer
ShellyKramer

@l_hawkins Hi Lyle. It's great to see you. And yes, all is well. What about you?

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @TomBLogue Excellent point, and I'm glad you picked up on that. It's very true. We need to have that learning curve.

LizJostes
LizJostes

@babybabylemon Ha! Um, no. You'll probably be disappointed with that post. :-)

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @KDillabough Every one makes a difference. Great parable, Kaarina. Thank you for sharing it!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @adamtoporek Agreed. I don't think most of us even know how far away we are from real customer service. It starts with a mindset change, and then works its way down, and takes work. Effort. And this is an area where most businesses don't want to make the effort, it seems. 

L_Hawkins
L_Hawkins

@ShellyKramer Feeling is mutual....Kicking butt and taking names...very busy.

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