Extraordinary Customer Service
A retired friend of mine was
recently on the receiving end of an amazing customer service
experience. A personal financial crisis forced him to engage
in a rigorous cost-cutting campaign. One of his “cuts”
was to eliminate a pest control service he had used for
the past 20 years. By mail, he notified Woods Pest Control
in Redding, California, to terminate the service. He also
explained the reasons why this was necessary.
A few days later he received a telephone call from the
technician who serviced his account. The technician acknowledged
receipt of the letter and said he had discussed the situation
with the company’s owner, David Harmon. The conversation
continued as follows:
Woods: Mr. Harmon has instructed me to continue servicing
My friend: You don’t understand. I can no longer
Woods: No problem. There’s no charge. If some time
in the future things improve, you can start paying again.
My friend: I cannot afford to build up the debt that would
accumulate while I’d be hoping for my finances to
Woods: There won’t be any debt buildup. Until you
can afford it, there will be no charge at all. It’ll
My friend: That’s incredible! But if things don’t
improve, how long would the service continue on a free basis?
Woods: As long as you live.
Needless to say, my friend was speechless. So was I. There
had to be a story there. I made an appointment to meet with
Harmon, 41, purchased the company in 1995. My interview
brought a few surprises. One, his generosity toward my friend
was not something new. He had already extended the same
helping hand to a number of other hardship cases.
Another surprise was Harmon’s ability to discuss
Six Sigma concepts with me. In fact, he had purchased Jack
Welch’s book on that subject. Not bad for the owner
of a small service company.
Harmon is very customer-oriented. He started our discussion
by telling me the following: “Our customers are our
lifeblood. They keep us going. Without customers it can’t
be done. When we have a customer who’s been with us
for many years, we know it has been difficult at times for
them—but they stuck it out with us through thick and
thin. So, when they have a crisis, we help them out. It’s
only fair. It’s our way of thanking them for their
loyalty to us.
“We have always been concerned about our customers—taking
care of them. Six years ago, we were in a growth mode. Each
technician had a full load of customers. On one hand, we
prided ourselves on overall efficiency. On the other hand,
our service cancellations were rising. I was assured by
others in this business not to worry. ‘That’s
normal,’ they said. But the cancellations bothered
me. As far as I was concerned, we were in a service business—one
that demanded good customer relations. So, I cut the customer
load for each of our technicians by hiring additional technicians.
Everyone was directed to be highly focused on the customer.
With the reduced customer load, they had the time to do
so. Our competitors are everywhere. We have to be good.”
The company started a top 10 program. Every month, each
technician is required to identify a top 10 list of customers.
Those that make the list may be customers with special pest
problems or financial difficulties. “We lavish them
with kindness and do everything to keep them happy,”
said Harmon. Cancellation rates plummeted—to the lowest
level ever. For Harmon it boiled down to a choice. Should
he implement a selling campaign designed to bring in new
customers and put up with higher-than-usual cancellation
rates or put a greater emphasis on super customer care with
its resultant low cancellation levels? For Harmon the latter
has made far better business sense.
“We’re concerned if someone wants to cancel
our service because they‘re unhappy with it for some
reason,” Harmon said. We don’t want them to
leave for any reason—especially if they’re upset
with us. Our usual approach is to continue their service
for two or three months at no charge with the goal of being
able to correct the cause of their discontent. Then, even
if they still go, they leave with a good feeling toward
our company. They’ll know that we certainly gave it
our best shot. At a minimum we will have lived up to our
obligation of taking care of our responsibility toward them,
and we want to part as friends.”
Harmon is as concerned with good relations with his employees
as he is with his customers. He assured me that he isn’t
the one who makes their customer and quality processes function
smoothly. He gives that credit to the employees who rub
shoulders with the customers on a regular basis. “I
couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “They’re
a bunch of sincere and hard-working people. We’re
I left the interview invigorated and inspired—convinced
that the world needs more business leaders like David Harmon.
Donald L. Dewar is president of QCI International, a consulting,
training and publishing organization (and publisher of Quality
Digest). He is also the co-founder of the Association
for Quality and Participation and the founding editor and
publisher of Quality Digest and The Journal for
Quality and Participation. Dewar is an American Society
for Quality fellow and recipient of ASQ’s Distinguished
Service Medal, the organization’s highest honor. Letters
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