Recent experiences in listening to your customers

jumper-cables

Nobody in business will ever say he isn’t concerned with listening to the customer. Really proving it, of course, is the difference between well-loved companies and those that aren’t.

Even notoriously frustrating Comcast has gained ground with its use of social media — a powerful mechanism for communication that, despite all the attention, we still may have yet to fully grasp. But beyond the buzz, the real value is hearing from customers who experience your products, whatever they may be — from buying tires to reading news.

I had two experiences with the concept recently, one from your friends in old media.

On Friday, I was driving a car that wasn’t my own through Flemington, N.J., though I had been holding on to the keys quite a bit in the past few months and noticed no warning signs of trouble. After filling up the tank at the Quick Check — something of a North Jersey Wawa, 7-11, fill-in your moderately well-liked convenience store that makes hoagies etc. — I turned the key and.. nothing.

I got the chance to offer, as a regular customer, my thoughts but didn’t feel anyone cared — how strange a successful regional corner store chain can’t do what old media did the same week.

When I turned the key in my ignition switch, my accessories came on — like the radio, lights and power window control — but no real clicking noises from the ignition switch. The lack of noise might lead one to be believe it was a problem with the battery — surely the most common cause of care difficulties like this — but the full, unimpaired accessory-action might lead one to believe it was a problem with the starter — perhaps the second most common in older cars like the one I was driving — a 1995 Nissan Maxima with more than 198,000 miles on it.

Of course, men are want to offer something to say when a car hood is up — so their opinons muddled between it being a battery or a starter problem. I pulled out my jumper cables — knowing the battery was the easiest to test — and tried to jump my car using the functioning batteries of two vehicles driven by willing strangers.

No jump, but, also, no real spark from the cables. The concern came from the old heads standing around the gas station offering opinions no one really asked them for that my jumper cables were trash.

What next then?

Well, with the traffic at this Quick Check on the day before July 4, you’d think I’d easily be able to find someone else with cables, time and the willingness to help. Well, you’d be wrong. It wasn’t for lack of trying from me or the gas station attendant — who even went as far as letting my try getting a jump from his car.

With no luck and no cables, the kindly attendant helped me push the car into a vacant spot, when three gentlemen in suits and Quick Check name tags came by asking questions with clip boards in hand. They were in some way related to the management of this franchise at the corner of state Rt. 31 and county Rt. 579 in Hunterdon. They started walking past me toward their car, when I stopped them.

“That attendant has really been helpful and considerate,” I told them. “I through this stretch a lot and will be more likely to stop here because of him.”

I was trying to repay the kid’s attention and kindness. The lead man in the suit felt compelled enough to ask if everything was alright — my leaning on my car in the lot.

I asked them if they had jumper cables.

“We really need to get going,” one of the other three said. “I’m sure someone else will be able to help you.”

They didn’t quite hear me suggest, as they got into their car, that they have a $25 pair of jumper cables at all of their stations. It could be a liability issue, or it could simply be an oversight.

I won’t know and they’ll never hear my suggestion. Strange, because, so far as I see it, there’s nothing more important than hearing a genuine concern from a rationale, paying customer.

It made me smile — on an otherwise frustrating day — to think that just a few days before I had a very different experience with another industry people rag on these days.

From the good people at the Philadelphia Inquirer, I received late last month — likely using the e-mail I have for getting access to write comments on their site — an invitation to be  a part of a Web-based reader panel. It’s surely nothing revolutionary or particularly innovative, but it was so different than my Quick Check experience a few days later that it piqued my interest.

Of course, what knowledy the Inqy will garner or use from the panel is another conversation altogether. But at a time when newspapers are offering less content that increasingly has to be less reported yet are often asking readers to pay more, it sure is  a fine time to figure out what could change the tides — even if it’s likely way too late.

And, of course, Quick Check almost certainly has panels and surveys and questionnaires, like the Inquirer and every other company does — win an iPod if you answer these 10 questions that only three percent of our customers will.

But last Friday was an opportunity for a man a suit and presumably some influence in how the chain is run to hear my thought, but he passed on them. Seems strange. I wonder if there is any mechanism for most newspapers to generally absorb genuine advice from their readers.

I bet there was at sometime. I suppose it’s too much of a scramble for that now.