It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel: About a dozen Japanese tourists in France each year have to be treated and then quickly repatriated because they suffer psychological breakdowns known as “Paris Syndrome.” One man claimed to be King Louis XIV. Two women were convinced they were being followed and that their hotel room was bugged. And another Japanese tourist believed microwaves were attacking her. “A third of patients get better immediately, a third suffer relapses, and the rest have psychoses,” Yousef Mahmoudia, a psychologist at the Hotel-Dieu hospital told the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche in an article that was picked up by Reuters in late October.
But there aren't any extraterrestrial organisms at work here, just a lack of out-of-this-world customer service. Among the primary Paris Syndrome catalysts cited by French psychologists, unfriendly and unresponsive shopkeepers rank at the top, followed by purse snatchers and muggers roaming streets comparatively much dirtier and dangerous than the typical Tokyo promenade.
“In Japanese shops, the customer is king,” Bernard Delage of Jeunes Japon, an association that helps Japanese families settle in France, explained to Journal du Dimanche. “Here, assistants hardly look at them.”
Things aren't looking so good stateside, either, where poor attitudes among salespeople and front-line customer service reps still plague retailers across the country, regardless of their patron's nationality. In a survey conducted last year by Ridgewood, N.J., retail consultancy MOHR Access, consumers were asked to identify the arrogant quips that make them want to quit doing business. “Not my department” and “If it's not on the rack, we don't have it,” topped the list. Other gems included “That's the policy,” “You'll have to wait your turn,” and “The computer is down.”
In an industry like pro supply where service trumps virtually all other factors in differentiating businesses, LBM operators would be prudent to make sure their customers' daily experiences are fitting the bill. At single-unit Contractor Express, president Bob Lucas and his team are constantly looking for ways to evaluate and improve on interactions between their sales and service staff and customers.
“We use contractor focus groups administered by a third-party marketing company to target what we are doing right versus what we are doing wrong,” Lucas said Oct. 28 during a pro dealer panel presentation at the NLBMDA/ProSales Industry Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz. “You want to get the good, the bad, and the ugly from a diversified focus group of both loyal and sporadic customers. We want to make it stupid-easy for our staff to satisfy the customer.”
Contractor Express offers standard amenities such as free delivery, takeoffs, and contractor product seminars. It also maintains a Contractor Courtesy Office boardroom that it loans out to builders and their clients. On the jobsite, the company offers measuring for doors and millwork, boom truck delivery for roofing and Sheetrock, and forklift material handling, all at no extra charge.
Lucas says he's considering empowering Express associates to immediately provide service results to customers in need. In turn, Contractor Express relies on its ranks of satisfied contractors—both new and old—to provide testimonials that the company uses for Web, print, and direct-mail advertising.
I, for one, think that's what great service is all about: constantly driving new sales, not driving customers crazy.