handlettered "feedback"I've had five customer service interactions in the last 24 hours. Two have been good. One was terrible.

Why should you care? Because at any given time, your business -- no matter what it is -- could be part of a post like this, and you always want to be on the good side. Plus, I know a lot of sole proprietors who think they don't need to worry about customer service since they're in charge of it. But if you're having a bad day and that gets transferred to your clients by a missed deadline or a snippy phone call, you're in the bad category pretty fast. So let's read and learn.

Experience #1: A few weeks ago, our Delta flight from Seattle was delayed because of a mechanical error. I never complain about those kinds of delays. After all, you want to try to fly when something's not working? No, thanks. I'll wait. Once we finally got going (about an hour later), the flight attendants came by with $15 vouchers good for meals or discounts off future flights. That was nice enough for what I think of as a legitimate delay. But in yesterday's mail, I got a letter of apology from the director of customer care, telling me he'd added 1,000 points to my frequent flyer account "as a gesture of apology". Wow. I'm a dedicated American Airlines flyer most of the time (for similar customer care reasons), but Delta's giving them a run for their money with this gesture. And I've told my travel agent. That's a win for Delta because it increased my loyalty to the airline, but more probably because I'm telling you that the service was great and you should consider flying them.

Experience #2: Back in July, I went to Kitchenworks in search of a heat and fireproof glove to use when grilling. They had a few in stock, but the owner told me she had ordered a brand new product she'd seen at a trade show and she thought I'd like it better -- provided I could wait on the purchase. I could, so I did. I could have bought something else, or gone somewhere else, but Martha and her staff are so good at what they do I wouldn't shop at another store unless it were an actual must-have-right-now situation. This morning the phone rang and there was someone from the store calling to say the gloves had finally come in and she would put one on hold for me if I still needed it. She also apologized profusely for the delay -- the manufacturer was swamped with orders and couldn't meet the demand immediately. Guess what I'm doing at lunch? Picking up my mitt.

Experience #3: Marvin got hold of my sunglasses and broke off one of the earpieces. So I rode up to the optometrist's office where my parents got their prescription lenses for 40 years to see if they could help me out, even though I'd bought my shades in LA. The lady at EyeCareCenter was super-nice and told me she could, indeed, fix them, but would have to order the replacement part from Ray-Ban and that they'd charge her more than they'd charge me to actually fix the pair themselves. All I had to do was fill out a form and mail the glasses to Ray-Ban myself -- and it would take the same amount of time. Now, she just let some money walk right out of her store. But when I need to finally replace these shades, guess where I'm going to buy them?

Experience #4: I made an appointment with Chapel Hill Dermatology to have three skin tags and a mole removed. I explained this clearly to the receptionist who scheduled me in. Now, I've long ago given up on being seen promptly in a medical/dental office unless I'm the first appointment of the day, so the fact I had to wait a bit didn't bug me. But once I was on the table in that stupid paper gown, the doc informed me that I could only have two items removed today, so I'd have to choose. Why? Because I was only scheduled for a 15-minute appointment, so there wasn't time. What? You tell me this now that I'm sitting here on the table? I'm not in the habit of pissing people off who're wielding scalpels, so I let her finish her work. When I checked out, the receptionist asked if I wanted to schedule the second appointment. I said, "Yes, but with another practice." and left. Now, my family's been going to this practice since 1974. With one bad experience, they lost a long-term customer (and one who averages two visits a year, which is recurring revenue). And, of course, I'll never recommend anyone go there again, even though the actual medical care has been fine. In a town with a major medical center like ours, there are plenty of board-certified dermatologists who can do the same quality work. My goal is to find one who offers "board-certified" customer care as well.

Experience #5: I'm a member at Kinetix (formerly Carolina Fitness) and have been dogging Steve to join up, too. I finally got him to agree by pointing out that he could read his Kindle on the exercise bike and kill two birds with one stone. So he agreed to come up to the gym to try it. I went by there last night to see if I could get a free pass or something for him. I explained to the manager what I wanted to do and he told me I'd have to make an appointment for my husband to meet with him. What? He just wants to try riding the bike while reading. Can't he just come in and do that, like a guest? The answer was no. I further explained that if he liked the experience (and I'm confident he would) that he'd join on the spot. No sales pitch required. But if he had to sit through a pitch for the privilege of sitting on a bike to test a theory, he wouldn't come in at all and a sale would be lost. The answer was still no. I'm now waiting on a call back from the club owner.

I didn't write this post just to slam the dermatologist and gym, nor to promote Delta, the EyeCareCenter and Kitchenworks. I shared these anecdotes because they are "teachable moments" for all business owners. Building loyalty is the key to retaining good customers and leveraging them as the marketing/sales agents they are. What are you doing to take care of your customer today?