by Melissa Piper Nelson
A local meat market has a sign posted at the front counter, at a height customers can clearly read. The top line is larger than the rest of the text. In bold print, it reads: Remember who is number one. The second line is just as clear. It says, in all capital letters: THE CUSTOMER.
Always alerted to customer service symbology and training, I pondered why this particular sign was turned toward the customer instead of the clerks on the other side of the counter.

Employees should be reading this, not necessarily the customer, right?
I came to the conclusion that sometimes we, as customers, need to be reminded of the philosophy of those from whom we buy our goods and services. Why did we select that particular business, farm or agri-entertainment venue? Why do we keep going back?
We may see ourselves as repeat customers because it is close to home, or we went to school with the owners, or the farm borders ours, but more realistically, we go there because we are welcomed and served with graciousness and a spirit of honesty. We may return to a place just to see if our first impression may have been incorrect, or if we judged too harshly. Deep down, however, we know when we feel accepted and comfortable, and put up barriers when we feel otherwise.
Customers need to see beyond the counter, market table or ticket stand and grasp the concept of the people and places that put items out for sale or entertain us. The feeling of acceptance comes from a variety of factors and emotions which the seller must establish and maintain. Good customer service comes from the ability to truly understand, interpret and commit to the potential buyer. I call this the Listen-Glean-Formulate equation of successful customer service.
If you listen to your customers and know what they like, what they care about and what they consistently purchase, you show you care about who is number one. Why? Because you no doubt have adapted to change, tried new things in response to customer feedback, and are on the leading edge of offering customers a great experience. Owners and producers who offer a great product but do not see a widening customer base generally have not spent enough time talking with buyers, assessing their needs and wants, researching target audience trends and working toward matching product with the experience.
Once you have gleaned good customer information, you can decide what you might need to change, what works best and how to work toward customer satisfaction. This requires respect for your customers’ feedback and a willingness to accept that what you thought you knew about selling your product might need some tweaks along the way. As good as the oft-mentioned farmer motto of: “Put it out there and it will sell,” may seem, customers are not reticent about researching other producers and outlets and letting folks know who has the best quality goods and the best shopping experience.
With the information gleaned, you can then formulate your plan of action and deliver the type of customer service, which turns a visitor into a repeat customer. The meat market customer has plenty of choices (at least two competing grocery stores with large meat counters within one mile), but chooses to make a special trip to this particular location. Certainly quality, tradition and hospitality are factors, but deep down isn’t it something about how you feel when you walk in the door and when you walk out the door, as well?
Customers have the responsibility of letting a business owner know when they have had a good experience and when their buying trip has been less than acceptable. Owners need to listen to customer feedback, glean the useful and honest information from comments, and formulate the ideas and processes to make customers not only remember, but know for certain, who is number one. This then, for all sellers, is job number one!