A Letter of Customer Service from the Frontlines

Published: Aug 14, 2021

Pandemics are not good for speaking businesses. If you require crowds and gatherings with people hanging on your every word, a global virus will put a big dent in all of that. My last live gig last spring was March 12, 2020 (a date I’ll never forget—the power went out 5 mins into the presentation— should have been an omen). It’s no one’s fault, and it’s not personal as I racked my brain on what to do next. Federal and state relief programs were still in the conceptual phase, and all my scheduled clients had, by this time, canceled. What did I do? I went and got a job. I’m not a lazy man— I been working since I was 12, and I figured too that employment would keep me busy and financially prudent.

What I didn’t necessarily count on but am grateful for is the education I received. In the spring of 2020, you would have found me in Sporting Goods at Fleet Farm. Yes, that’s right–retail. Now I’ve worked hard in my life and have done many things, but I have a newfound deep respect for people who do retail every day— it is a tough gig.

I began to look at my new employment as invaluable “field research.” I think speakers can get too far removed from the topics they speak on— motivation, leadership, professionalism, customer service—here I was living it! Every night I would go home and record and journal. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass without reflection and collection.

I call this blog “A Letter from the Frontlines…” because that what I was—in the trenches. Here are three things from the customer service trenches that my spring of 2020 education taught me:

  1. Promote the message, EVERYONE on the team is a trainer. New employees learning the job and understanding customer service, may require help in dealing with situations, answering questions. The people who have been there longer can be a great source of wisdom and experience to help guide the new person. We can’t assume that the Lead or Supervisor, or Manager will be available to teach the skills. Everyone can and should view themselves as someone who can teach (even if you’ve been there longer than the new person by only three weeks—you know stuff)
  2. You will have good customer service days, and you will have less-than-good customer service days. When you don’t handle something well, (Example: One day a guy called me looking for the blue-green, 4” speckled jointed medium diving crankbait, and I told him we have thousands of lures—come in and look yourself BTW Not the right way to handle that) learn from your mistakes, reflect on what you did well, what you could have done better and work to do better. Shame on you if you are repeatedly making the same mistakes or not improving in your customer interactions. Forgive yourself for a bad day but do learn.
  3. In the trenches, all we have is each other. I believe in the concept of internal customer service. When I was brand new to the floor and needed help dealing with an issue or customer, it was reassuring to know fellow employees had my back and were only a radio call away for a price check or product location. Heck, on the frontlines is challenging enough—we need to count on each other.

I am both thankful and humbled by my pandemic education. Retail is hard work. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the workers who do it every day. I will never deliver another presentation on Customer Service without recalling and conveying what I learned— on the frontlines.