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Dickeson--Warm Fuzzies vs. Cold Pricklies

May 2000
Did the Big Boxes (Walmart and Home Depot) start it? I find it at every post office, at the Safeway, at the Department of Motor Vehicles, at church, at doctor's offices and hospitals—everywhere. Everyone's so darned helpful, courteous, attentive and friendly. (I don't know about New York cabbies, but maybe even they . . . no, that's too much!) It's all up close and personal these days. So huggy. And I love it.

Maybe it's a reaction to all those "Your call is important to us. Press five to talk to a human" impersonal answering machine messages. How I despise those. Maybe it's responsive to the impersonality of Internet "chat rooms" or e-mail "spam." Perhaps it's our opening skirmishes against takeover by robots—computers smarter than we are. Whatever.

It's the triumph of the Warm Fuzzies over the Cold Pricklies. If commercial printing is a service business, as I believe it to be, then every POC (point of contact) with a customer had better be warm and fuzzy—as courteous, helpful and attentive as possible. Pick up the phone and dial your own company number. What's the response? Warm fuzzy or cold prickly?

Go to your local Walmart. There's a kindly senior citizen in a blue jacket greeting you, smiling, offering you a shopping cart, giving directions. Ask one of the Home Depot people where some item is. The law of Home Depot is "Don't just point. Walk with the customer to the shelf, all the while chatting her/him up with personal concern for his/her plumbing problem or new wallpaper."

What we're learning is that customers, whether handsome and beautiful, or short, fat and homely, respond to warm, human interaction. A certain President you may have heard about retained his popularity, despite some naughtiness, by showing deep respect for people—his customers—and "feeling their pain." Maybe it all started with him. If we're in competition, as the USPS is with UPS, then we'd better provide it.

Start with this little exercise: Make a list of every POC opportunity your business has. Pass that list around, and let your colleagues add any you've missed. Even when you make a collection call for a delinquent payment, it's a POC, an opportunity to demonstrate respect and understanding. It must be genuine and not the phoniness of a recorded "Your call is important to us," or a tiresome "Have a great day."

Then get the gang together and talk about that list. Ask yourselves: "At each POC, what can we at Ajax Printing do to express attentiveness, concern, respect and even affection for our customers and their problems? How do we make it genuine?" Think about it. Talk about it. Even practice by doing it among each other at the company. Get infected and you'll transmit it to each contact.


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