Monday, March 15, 2010

The Meaning of Customer Service

For a few weeks now I've been kicking around the idea of becoming certified by the Tobacconist University. They offer a few levels of certification, including a consumer one. I'm thinking about signing up for it, even though it is expensive to sit for the test. Yeah, that's right, I'm opting to take a test. Hell has frozen over.

In case you don't know what the Tobacconist University is, you should check out the website. If you're a budding cigar or pipe smoker they have a wealth of information available to everyone; not just those certified through their program. I like the fact that they do offer a program because it reinforces something that, in my mind, is completely dead in most of today's business and corporation-centric business models. That is customer service.

A long time ago, in a galaxy much like ours but not inhabited by the likes of Wal-Mart and smoking bans, customer service wasn't the name of a department in a store. It was just what people did. Only car salesmen breathed down your neck like a greedy leech, hoping to eek out that precious commission from your work-worn hands. On the other extreme, you weren't ignored either. People were kind and courteous and helped you. Customer service wasn't where you went to return cheap crap that had broken, it was an ethical code that business owners and staff lived by. Not just the customer is always right, no. More along the lines of "the customer is human and doesn't like being treated like complete trash".

It seems that in today's world, only the most vilified of luxuries still stick to their customer service roots, mainly tobacconists and bartenders. Coffee used to be in the same genre too but good coffee shops are being brow-beaten out of existence by Starbucks and their sugar laden, poorly roasted bastardizations of coffee. Seriously, that's not a cappuccino. Really. I swear. The only place that I really get any sort of customer service, some warmth and treatment that I'm not just another sale, are tobacconists and bars. My tobacconist, whom I have glorified beyond all recognition, is Israel Markevitz. He is a stand-up guy. Not only is he a great tobacconist, he is a generous and kind man as well. Let me paint you a picture of what happens whenever I step into Uptown Cigar.

I enter Uptown and immediately I am wrapped snugly in a blanket of cigar smoke. People look up from the chairs next to the door and smile, even wave. Diane or Dennis look up and crack a huge smile and say "Hey Scott, how's it goin". Diane and I chat as I amble into the humidor. Dennis makes sure that I'm doing okay these days, ever since he found out that I had major surgery over the summer. I enter the humidor. At this point, if Isy isn't around the front, Diane has generally made sure that Isy knows I'm here. Isy comes out of the back, typically wreathed in a cloud of smoke with a huge shit-eating grin on. He shakes my hand, asks how I'm doing, and follows me into the humidor. He points out what's new and what I should try. We chat for about ten minutes, just shooting the shit and discussing cigars in the humi. I pick out what I want (this generally devolves into Isy getting a front-end loader and knocking a wall out of the store) and I pay. He offers matches every time but I always bring my lighter. I sit down and smoke. Isy walks around talking to people, both his regulars and new customers. The air is filled with smoke and lively conversation. Sometimes he busts out some brews or some spirits. Other times he gifts cigars (like the Cabinetta). Every time I leave he makes sure to say goodbye and thanks me.

This is customer service.

It's the same way at a lot of bars. Tap and Mallet is a hell of a bar and I'm trying to get my "regular" status there by drinking a lot of beer. Joe runs a great place with nice bartenders that care. They're happy to make recommendations of both food and beverage and are just plain awesome. The Mallet make sure that their customers are both educated in terms of the beverages they sell as well as happy with what they've ordered. Joe's selection of beers is stellar and you can tell that he puts an immense amount of work and pride into crafting it. He listens to what people want and what's good. He actively runs the business too. You can find him in there quite a few days out of the week.

Even those that I've never met before in the business are genial and friendly. Lindsay Heller of Nat Sherman is another prime example. I walked in off the street not too long ago (right after the NYC Coffee and Tea Festival). I entered Nat with the intention of getting some smokes. I had talked to Lindsay on her Twitter about stopping down. I introduced myself to her and she broke out in a smile and a laugh. Introducing myself to her started off with me saying "Lindsay?" which put a quizzical look across her face. I guess people don't call her out by her first name often. Which is a shame because more people should know about her. She took me back to the humidor with their special Nat Sherman selections, helped me pick out three or four, and even treated me to one. Hell, she even helped convince my mom to get a cigar to smoke. I've been trying to do that for years.

This is customer service.

It is interesting that only the "sin" categories of business still abide by the customer service motto. I'm not sure why this is but it shouldn't be. Every business should be like this. I guess that the only civil people left in the commercial world are the very same ones people and government are deeming uncivilized.

1 comment:

  1. Scott, Scott, Scott...thank you!!

    I have to say that not a ton of people call my by my name, so sorry if I appeared to be a bit puzzled--seems like these days most people just shout "Cigar Chick" and I respond. It's Pavlovian. :)

    You (and your Mom!) are always welcome at Nat Sherman and hopefully next time you come by you can hang around and we can have a cigar.