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  • Rhett Parsons

Lessons from the Tailgate: Common Sense Customer Service

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Every day, we hear about the latest and greatest ways to service our customers – and as part of the customer care industry, it’s my job to stay up to date on all of them. In the 30+ years that I’ve spent in customer-facing roles helping organizations elevate their customer care, I’ve had opportunities to work with companies such as ConAgra Foods, Estee Lauder, Toyota, L.L. Bean and many more, but my passion for customer care came long before this.

Many have asked where I developed my philosophy for customer service; in fact, a conversation with a senior executive at L.L. Bean over 20 years ago serves as the inspiration for this story. While sitting with Lou Zambellio, he asked me exactly where I’d learned about customer service. I’ll admit that at first, I was taken aback by the question. Lou was an extraordinary leader in customer service, and he was asking for my advice!

As I gathered my thoughts, I realized that I began my education in customer service while sitting on the tailgate of my grandfather’s 1979 pickup truck.

Back to Basics

My grandfather, Andy Armes Sr., was one of the most hardworking men I’ve ever met. During the Great Depression, he worked in the CC Core to send $25 a month home for his family – however, he often sent the entire $30 a month that he earned. When he returned home to his family, he began building a series of businesses and further developing the work ethic that he would pass on to his children and grandchildren.

My grandfather recognized that his customer care and reputation formed the lifeblood of his businesses. In the late 70s and early 80s, I was lucky enough to work alongside him at his produce stand doing everything from setting up the displays to rotating the stock – and most importantly, serving the customers!

While there were always dozens of vendors at the market where we worked, prospective customers soon learned that you could trust “Mr. Andy.” They could be confident that the product was fresh and that if there were ever a problem; it would be solved quickly and satisfactorily.

Back then, people would talk to their friends and neighbors about the great product and service they received from a 13 year old kid on the tailgate of a pickup. While the speed of the message and the delivery format has changed, the core principles for exceptional service remain the same.

My granddad passed away in 1997 – before smartphones, free Wi-Fi, and the ability to tell a thousand people about something in a matter of seconds. I often think that if he were here to see what is possible, he would be excited to have the ability to quickly spread the good word to so many people. I also believe that he would recognize that the core values of customer service have remained true to his own business days.

I’m grateful that I had such a wonderful example of customer care all those years ago. It has served me well, and I hope that I have given a man whom I love, the respect he deserves by carrying on these lessons.

In this fast-paced, technologically-driven world, be sure that you’re taking the time to truly value your customers. Thank them, recognize them, and recommit to providing better customer service each and every day. That’s just good common sense!

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