When I was in high school, I worked as a cashier at a convenience store. I was seventeen and the typical “thought-I-knew-everything-but-did-not-know-everything” kind of kid.
One morning, I was stocking the shelves in an aisle when a customer started talking to me. Toward the end of the conversation, she accidentally dropped the coffee she was holding. Frazzled and embarrassed, she apologized and started to pull out her wallet.
“I’ll go get a mop after I ring you up, ma’am, and the floor will be fine.”
My boss, who was in the same aisle taking inventory, came over and said something that—to this day—I will never forget.
“Oh, Carol, you don’t have to pay for this. Accidents happen, and we love our customers. So go grab another cup of coffee, and don’t worry about anything.”
“Thank you so much, Terry. I appreciate it so much. Your kindness is the reason why I shop here.”
I was confused. What? Did my boss give her free coffee? (Of course, these were the thoughts of a naive teenager at the time. I’m much wiser now.)
The woman proceeded to fill up another cup of coffee, smiled as she walked past us, and was on her way. Meanwhile, in aisle two of the convenience store I managed, I learned one of the most valuable life lessons: The customer is always right.
I suppose my bewildered look prompted my boss to explain herself.
“Brian, we take care of our customers. They come in every day and trust us with their business. Even if it’s milk and bread, we play a role in their life, and we do everything we can to make their experience with us a pleasant one.”
I nodded with understanding and walked into the back to grab the mop, thinking that we had just given away $0.27 in profit.
There are several things to learn when you come of age, but the lesson I learned that day sunk in—big time.
It’s Not About Me
I can count the number of newsletters I subscribe to with one hand. The Sunday Dispatch, written by Paul Jarvis, was one of them.
A few years ago, I opened my email one morning. The dispatch Paul sent that morning was “This is not about me,”—which is quite brilliant if you think about it because what raving fan wouldn’t want to see something with an email subject line of “This is not about me” is all about?
“My picture and words are on my site. I create and sell my products. And I pay for this newsletter, as well as hit the ‘publish’ button each week. Given all that, it’s easy to believe that this is The Paul Jarvis Show—both in terms of me sometimes thinking it and folks, like you, believing it too. In reality, though, nothing is further from the truth.”
Then he says something quite impressive:
“In fact, the most important person in my business is you.”
Immediately, my coffee encounter with Carol came to mind. I was reminded of the impact that simple gesture of sincerity had on me—and presumably had a similar effect on her.
Life in the Digital World
Back in 2007, I left my day job, which was given to me by another customer of the same convenience store. This job offer is the result of another story of customer-service-gone-right.
I left that job to pursue the wonderful world of creative entrepreneurship by establishing a “work-at-home” thing called StudioPress. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing and had no idea what it would become.
But one thing I knew is that, during the formative years, customer service was far and away one of the most important things we instilled in the brand.
I wanted customers to associate StudioPress with excellent customer service. I wanted us to be known for our kindness and our legacy to be people who cared about people.
In the digital world, folks don’t spill coffee in aisles of convenience stores, but they accidentally purchase the wrong theme, get in over their heads, or want a refund for reasons they won’t disclose.
An Act of Service
Back to Paul.
In his email, he illustrated the importance of serving customers the right way:
“It can be difficult to make your business about your customers. If they’re angry about something, or worse, apathetic about what they’ve purchased (E.g., they buy a course but never even log in to start the work), then you can feel like who you’re trying hard to serve doesn’t care.”
Then he closes with:
“But in those moments, even though it’s difficult, you still have to empathize. That’s the most important time to have empathy, or as Brené Brown says, feel with someone. So in those moments, you have to take a step back and see what went wrong, what you can own about that, and try and do better.”
This past fall, I announced that I was joining WP Engine as Principal Developer Advocate. Our team serves as a conduit between the WordPress project and its users—accelerating innovation and helping the community transition to the block editor and Full Site Editing.
As an employee of WP Engine, a member of the WordPress community, a fellow creator, and “whatever role I play in your world,” I promise to do as Paul suggests: Better.
And if what I am doing is not good enough, I permit you to let me know if you find that I am not fulfilling that promise. Because the customer—or anyone else—is always right, and the most important person to me is you.