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Service With a Smile

Kristine Hayes

MY MOM TOOK ME to a local credit union in 1981, when I was 14 years old, to open my first savings account. I don’t remember how much money I initially deposited. But back then, I had two sources of income. Each summer, I sold a pig at our 4-H fair livestock auction. That typically provided me with $200—funds I budgeted for school clothes and supplies.

I also earned money by showing livestock at our county fair. Every ribbon my animals were awarded came with a cash bonus. Blue ribbons meant pocketing $20. Most years I’d earn between $200 and $300 by strategically entering my animals in as many categories as I could.

Still, I’m sure my savings account balance at the credit union rarely exceeded $500. You never would have known by the customer service I received. In 1981, my credit union had one branch and two tellers. Each time I’d go in to make a deposit, the tellers would greet me by name. I never had to tell them my account number or provide any identification.

For more than 30 years, I remained a member of that credit union. Over the years, the credit union grew and opened multiple branches. Even though the tellers no longer knew me by name, the customer service remained stellar. When I would recite my four-digit member number to one of the employees, they’d inevitably thank me for being a long-term customer. By then, new clients were being assigned eight-digit numbers for their accounts.

The lessons I learned about exemplary customer service have stayed with me. Although I’m quite frugal, I will willingly spend more money on a service or product if I know it’ll be accompanied by exceptional service.

When my husband and I decided to start a dog-training business, we knew customer service would be at the core of our business model. We wanted our clients to feel they were getting more than just information on how to train their dogs. We wanted them to have a clear understanding of the techniques we use. We wanted them to feel free to ask questions about the training. We wanted to share our love of dogs, and dog training, with them in whatever ways we could.

When we conduct a lesson at a client’s home, both my husband and I attend. This allows one of us to interact with the dog, while the other person is free to explain the training techniques to the owner. We provide clients with several written handouts explaining each exercise. We follow up each lesson with a personal email. We emphasize to clients that they should never hesitate to call or text us.

There are other ways we show our clients how much we appreciate their business. In December, we delivered a handwritten holiday card and a bag of dog treats to each client. We were inundated with positive feedback for this simple goodwill gesture.

From what I can tell, all the extra attention we provide is appreciated. Even though we’ve only worked with a handful of dogs, the reviews we’re getting from their owners have been positive.

How does all this customer service affect our bottom line? For every hour we get paid, I spend an additional one to two hours answering calls, writing emails and filming content for our business YouTube channel. My husband spends several hours a week researching ways to make our training techniques more effective. I suspect our hourly wage is barely above what we’d make if we worked at a local fast-food chain.

For now, my husband and I aren’t concerned about the money. We don’t rely on the business to pay our bills. Instead, training dogs—and their owners—serves as a rewarding outlet for our own passion for dogs.

Kristine Hayes Nibler recently retired, and she and her husband now live in Arizona. She enjoys spending her time reading, writing and training their four dogsCheck out Kristine’s earlier articles.

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