What the eclipse taught me about customer service

What the eclipse taught me about customer service

From a big city to a small town, from an isolated island to a mall, my big trip to see astronomy at work also reminded me how things have changed for American consumers and maybe veterinary hospitals.
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Oct 18, 2017

The eclipse in Santee, South Carolina (Photo: Mike Paul)I enjoy shopping. Not so much the actual buying, but the shopping experience. Unfortunately, as I spend most of my time on the small island of Anguilla, there's precious little shopping except at the grocery store. If I'm going to do any quality shopping, it involves taking a trip stateside.

Which is why my recent visit to Santee, South Carolina, via Charlotte, North Carolina, to see the recent solar eclipse got me thinking. I found myself musing about restaurants and stores and the customer experience—and thinking about how it compares to our veterinary hospitals.

Where's the staff? Where's the inventory?

First, we flew through Charlotte and stopped to pick up a few shirts and shorts on sale at a big fashion store, and I was amazed and dismayed. The big store I visited was full of merchandise but empty of staff. I remember when Nordstrom and even Macy’s were as good as it gets for a shopper like me.

This experience, however, was a downer. I guess they don’t need staff because, as another customer told me, “People don’t buy. They look and then go home and order online.”

I visited Bed Bath and Beyond next and was shocked they didn’t have what I wanted.

“We can order it and have it tomorrow,” a semi-helpful employee told me.

Even Nordstrom has a large area devoted just to picking up online orders. This wasn't what I was looking for—and we know it's a tough trend in the consumer marketplace for veterinary practices to face (although you may order pet food and items for people to pick up already).

Busy but with a smile

After a two-hour drive to Santee, we checked into our hotel (which will remain unnamed) and right across the road was my nirvana: a Cracker Barrel restaurant.

Cracker Barrel is known for platefuls of artery-clogging food—think biscuits and gravy—as well as a lobby area filled with things you'd find at a garage sale next month and, above all, the friendliest employees you'll find outside an Olive Garden. Maybe it was just Santee or the coming equinox, but it was like being waited on by your favorite aunt.

The following morning we tried to repeat at Cracker Barrel, but couldn’t even get into the parking lot so we headed to one of my other favorites. We walked into McDonald’s to find long lines and undoubtedly the most overworked counter staff I've ever seen. The next time someone tells me, “We were slammed!” I'm sending them to the McDonald’s in Santee.

Suffice to say, the eclipse was amazing, but so were the friendly reminders of what good and bad customer service and experience are.

You're probably wondering what the solar eclipse has to do with veterinary practice. Maybe not much. But maybe a whole lot. Once I got out of the big town to a place that values people, the exceptional service experience made an anticipated event (the eclipse or, say, a big veterinary procedure?) even better with courtesy, personal commitment to each customer and, in the face of stress, a smile (thanks, McDonald's team).

Meanwhile, back to Santee. It's not a town I'm likely to visit again, but if you're ever in that neck of the woods, say hello for me and have a plate of biscuits and gravy and some fried green tomatoes.

Dr. Michael Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of AAHA. He is currently the principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.

Y'all come back now, y'hear? (Photo: Mike Paul)