An Unscientific Approach to Customer Service, Part I

Over the next three days, I’ll be introducing you to Gilbert’s Drive-In Grocery, the home of ATROCIOUS customer service that somehow works. Without the trappings of scientific customer segmentation and no discernible effort to create a positive customer experience, the people at Gilbert’s have come to uniquely understand their customers. And it doesn’t look anything like a text book definition of the customer service experience.

A Year in the Country

For a little more than a year, I’ve lived in the country. And I don’t just mean a nice suburb in the middle of nowhere. My next-door neighbors have a donkey, two mini-horses, and, like, a hundred dogs. There’s a functioning horse ranch about a mile away, and there’s absolutely nothing across the street. Across the road, however, you’ll find a nice rolling meadow occupied by maybe 10 donkeys, a dozen sheep, and whole mess of emus. Last fall, I took my morning coffee out on the front porch and was welcomed by a gang of wild turkeys.

As a lifelong city dweller, native to Southern California, these things are foreign to me. I’m accustomed to seeing animals at the zoo.

Animal oddities aside, I’ve grown to appreciate certain aspects of country living. I’m a city mouse through and through, but few things make me laugh like the frenzied braying of a donkey. In my experience with country living, I’ve discovered that some things are refreshing and new, others are simply fun, and many things are just plain different.

For instance, I enjoy walking as a light form of exercise. Lucky for me, walking out on country roads is really nice. They’re not too curvy, just a little bit up-and-down, and there’s virtually no traffic.

What’s the point, you ask?

Pedestrian Geometry

Nearly every time I’m out walking, at least one driver pulls up beside me and asks if I need a ride. In the city, this never happens. And if it does, the only logical response is to run. This doesn’t make country drivers any better or worse than city drivers. They’re just different.

If you’re out walking in the country, and it’s not voluntary; based strictly on the larger average  distance between points A and B, pedestrians have a lot more ground to cover. As such, most country pedestrians really, really, really appreciate the advances of a friendly driver.

Conversely, point-to-point travel in the city is either quick-and-painless, or it’s covered by public transportation. Perhaps the city method is a little less cordial, but it works.

Of course, I don’t mean this be some patronizing essay on the relative virtues of country living. I’m merely pointing out these differences to describe the only possible location where the anomalous customer service experience of Gilbert’s Drive-In Grocery could survive.

In a completely unscientific manner, this remote convenience store has come to truly knows its customers; and in a strange, organic, and completely counterintuitive manner, more or less gives them exactly what they want.

Convenience Matters

For me, the most obvious difference between city and country living is the latter’s breathtaking void of modern life’s greatest staple: convenience. While philosophers might point to the hardy preparedness and folksy capacity of country dwellers to get by with only the necessities; when you’re out-of-mac-n-cheese-and-the-kids-won’t-eat-anything-else-and-they-won’t-calm-down-until-they-get-their-mac-n-cheese…convenience matters.   

From my house, it’s about 10 minutes to the highway. From there it’s another 15-20 minutes to a major highway, where you’ll find the stores you might be accustomed to seeing: Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Best Buy, Gebo’s Farm and Ranch Supplies (seriously, if I needed farm and ranch supplies, I’d have to drive into town).

Certainly, there are other stores within the 10-15 minute range, but Dollar General and CVS are the big names. If you need aspirin, trash bags, or an ample selection of last year’s greeting cards, you’re all set.

Otherwise, be prepared to drive. Or brace yourself for the Gilbert’s experience.

Are you ready for the Gilbert’s Drive-In Grocery experience? Come back tomorrow for Part II, including Customer Service #FAIL and The Customer Contempt Experience.

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