Columnists, Neil Overfelt, V5I3

Take a Lesson from Horton

In Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book Horton Hears a Who, the big-hearted Horton recites over and over that “a person is a person, no matter how small.”

I was listening to a good friend and customer the other day who was expressing his discontent about the poor service he’d been presented with at a bank several years ago.  

He was just an average guy trying to do some business. Nothing special, just trying to do everyday business and get on with life. By his own admission, he wasn’t a major customer of this bank. Probably had several thousand dollars in his personal savings and checking accounts, maybe a car loan already in place, perhaps a safety deposit box he paid $25 a year for.  

I wasn’t there and he didn’t give me the details of the visit, but I’ve been that guy so I’ll extrapolate on some of my past experiences and mix them with his tones and sentiment. I’m betting you’ll recognize some of this in some of your own customer service experiences over the years. And trust me, I’m not hammering on banks because this kind of service my friend experienced happens in all sectors. (By the way, I love my bank—great people and great service!)

So, he gets in line, or sits in the lobby with his name on a list waiting to be called. And he waits. Patiently. For a while. Then a little less patiently. Glances at his watch. 

Then he gets called. Back to the watch. Relieved, somewhat. Took a while but could have been worse. He ambles back to the desk and sits across from a loan officer who goes through the motions of collecting his info, accessing his account, making small talk but not eye contact.  

He’s a number. He’s an account. And he feels it. And after a while he says to himself: “I know I don’t have a million bucks deposited with these guys. I know in the big scheme of things I’m a minnow in sea of big money fish. But I’m still a customer; I’m still here to do business with this establishment, and what I’m doing today matters to me and my family.  

“So why do I feel like I’m not important to this company? I can take my business elsewhere. I don’t want to, but I can. It’s a pain to do that. Paperwork. Time. A headache to switch, but maybe I’d be greeted cordially and taken care of a little better elsewhere. Maybe I’d actually like doing business elsewhere a little better (maybe a lot better!), somewhere that the size of my account doesn’t determine the level of service I receive. Somewhere where people are genuinely glad when I call or visit. Maybe the little bit of effort to switch where I do business would be worth it. Maybe the new bank would actually make it easy to switch.”  

We’re all a big fish in some ponds and a minnow in others. If your establishment gives the kind of customer service it should, then none of your customers should know what size ranking and effect they have on your P&L. 

Customer service is a habit, a way of life, a philosophy. It should be in your bones. In fact, it is in your bones, whether you know it or not. It’s who you are at the core. They say if you want to know the true character of a man, play golf with him. The same is true with customer service. It always comes out.

Good customer service is the right thing to do. It’s downright neighborly. Plus, it feels good to treat folks right, regardless if they add to your bottom line, regardless if you expect them as repeat customers. And, typically, your big customers started as little customers. Call it karma, or paying it forward, or using the Golden Rule—whichever you like.  

Horton’s catchphrase of “a person is a person, no matter how small” is precisely the attitude successful enterprises have. If you haven’t read it, or it’s been a while, take a minute. It’s a fun children’s book by one of the greats, and it’s worth 10 minutes of your time, especially if you’re in the customer service business.  

And this time insert “customer/client/account,” whichever best fits your business language, for “person,” while at the same time remembering that behind the customer is a real person, because your customers, just like the Whos on the speck of dust are crying, “We are here! We are here! We are here!”Have a great day, and don’t forget to be a Horton to all of your customers. 



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