The ongoing test: 'Serve the customer well'

I learned many years ago working in the family grocery business about the importance of pleasing the customer. If you’re in sales, you’re always being tested to please the customer.

I’ve been in the tool business for many years now, and every day is still about pleasing the customer. Some days it can be especially hard to do. I had an experience not long ago where I was called upon to please a customer. And I’m pleased to say I met the call head on.


A first-time customer

The customer bought an Ingersoll Rand 285B impact wrench, a socket set, a hose and a coupler. He needed this powerful impact wrench and sockets to change tires on a semi truck. It was part of a combination package I was selling. The customer spent close to $1,000 on this package.

Shortly after making that sale, I got a call from that customer. He wasn’t happy. The sockets I sold him were standard size sockets and his truck needed a metric size socket. He couldn’t remove the tires from his truck. He was pretty upset spending that much money and then the first time he tried to use the impact wrench, he couldn’t use it on his wheels.

I understood his frustration, so I told him not to worry. I told him he would be receiving a 33mm socket the next day at no charge. He was delighted to hear this. It wasn’t an inexpensive proposition for me, seeing that he was in Iowa and my warehouse is in Ohio. But I sent him the tool at no charge, including shipping.

He had bought a socket set to solve a problem and it didn’t solve the problem. If I had not done what I did, I would have lost a customer forever. But as it turned out, I think I gained a customer forever. This past year, he spent more money with me than he did initially. I was glad to give him something for free and maintain his loyalty.


A new issue was uncovered

This particular problem had not previously occurred. I’ve been in the tool business for 42 years, but what customers need today is not what they used 40, 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. There are more parts in today’s vehicles that need metric tools.

I was glad the customer called me about his problem. Not only was I able to save a good customer, but I learned what I had to provide other customers looking to work on semis.

There was no way I could have known when he bought the sockets that they wouldn’t fit his wheel. I didn’t tell him to buy the sockets; he bought them when he saw the deal I was offering for the sockets and the impact wrench.

Because of this experience, I have designed my power tool/socket packages to include options for metric sockets. I now offer both standard sockets and metric sockets to customers. I have packages where a customer can get both types of sockets for an additional cost.


In sales, learning never stops

I have been in the tool business for many years, and I am still learning. You don’t learn things like this out of a textbook.

There are times when customers ask me to replace tools that they didn’t buy from me. If I think the customer sincerely believes that he bought the tool from me, I consider replacing it. I always keep in mind what it costs to replace a tool with the business I might gain by replacing it. I view that as advertising; once you take care of that customer, that customer’s experience becomes a form of advertising for you.

My father taught me well when I was a youngster working in the grocery business. The challenge to serve the customer is ongoing, and so are the rewards it brings.


John Streber operates Quality Craft Tools Inc., an independent tool distributor based in Hillsboro, Ohio (which is in southwestern Ohio).