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We don't easily forget good service

You know it when you see it. Exceptional customer service, that is.

As we age, purchasing things can become more difficult. It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying apples and aspirin at a local market or negotiating the replacement of your 15-year old automobile.

Some of the reasons for these age-related challenges are obvious. Others, not so much.

Let’s start with the recognition that our old ears have more difficulty hearing young, high-voiced, fast-talking clerks. Old eyes cannot easily read the nutrition labels on a can of soup and might need some help from impatient store personnel. Add to that, many elders with decades of buying experience recognize when someone is trying to represent a product in a way that doesn’t ring true. And we don’t like it.

It seems to me that customer service training should focus on how to satisfy and create loyalty in the exploding demographic of retired adults — many of whom have a fair amount of disposable income and treasure a good buying experience.

When there is a positive retail exchange, thoughtful elders have more time to chat about it with their age peers. Budding entrepreneurs, take note of this significant fact, “happy customers tell, on average, nine people about their experience” (www.blogspot.com). And I suspect people who have a negative experience tell many more than that.

A 2007 survey by CEB involved 75,000 people of all ages who purchased items over the telephone or online. They found that the most important factor in customer satisfaction and increasing customer loyalty involved reducing the amount of time a customer has to spend in solving a problem. For example, when I buy something online, I read reviews from other customers and examine the product closely — probably increasing the size of the font and the detail in any photos on my computer screen. I make a decision to order the item and it comes just a few days later as promised.

So far, so good.

But what if I open the package and it’s not what I want, or it seems initially perfect but quickly malfunctions. If I can simply place it back in the package, relabel it using a label the seller provides and send it back without even paying any postage, I am happy. Or, at least, less unhappy.

My best example of excellent customer service occurred many years ago when we were traveling in another state. I got a headache and went into an unfamiliar drug store saying, “I need some aspirin.” Not only did the clerk ask the pharmacist to get involved in order to recommend the most appropriate nonprescription pain reliever, the clerk brought me a cool glass of water so I could tackle alleviating that headache immediately. Then she asked if I might need sunglasses to protect my eyes from glare, which I, of course, bought.

That incident happened almost 30 years ago, and I still remember the moment positively and if asked could name the store and the clerk.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.