Ground Clutter

May 8, 2003
Computers, like airlines, have come to be considered almost a commodity. Americans buy computers and airline tickets the same way we buy milk, gasoline, and shaving cream: "Just give me the cheapest, because I can't tell the difference in quality between any of them."

I just bought a new laptop to replace my old and hated Gateway, and I bought the new one from the one firm I know will service it.

This time I rebelled. I bought the new laptop from North Alabama Computers (NAC), the folks who have repaired our computers for the last few years. A fellow named Terry runs their service department, and oh, it is such a joy to have someone I can actually reach on the phone, or even drop by to see. Some days the entire computer industry decides-just for the fun of it- to mess up everything I touch, computerwise. (Wife Gail says that's silly, that "they" don't do that. I know better. There is a club of them. Bill Gates is president, and they get together at least once a week and say, "Hey, let's sock it to that fat guy in Alabama. You know, old what's his name?" On those days, I go cussing and screaming to Terry. He calms me down and fixes the computer. He deserves the Nobel Prize.)

I did not compare prices or brands on the new laptop. I did not read ads, ask friends, or shop around. I went to NAC only, and they wouldn't even haggle over price. I bought a computer that they put together themselves. I have no idea how it compares to other brands. I do know that I could have purchased the same features cheaper. But I didn't want features; I wanted Terry.

I took my new laptop home, and, of course- duh- I couldn't make it work right. I took it straight back to Terry and he fixed it in five minutes. That's exactly why I bought from NAC, and I am as happy with my new laptop as a hog in a barrel of Arkansas garbage after a weekend barbecue cookoff.

The customer will pay extra for desired benefits, when the customer knows that you offer those benefits. Here's a crying shame: I knew about NAC long before I bought my detested Gateway laptop. They built a desktop for wife Gail years before that, and I knew about Terry's service. But I did not know that NAC could make laptops, too. Terry had told me that himself, one of the many times he fixed the accursed Gateway. I had long since given up on getting any service from Gateway, and I decided that very day that my next laptop would come from NAC. They had that sale locked up for years before I had even met their salesperson.

How about your business? Is your service department building up future sales, or irritating customers who have already bought? Do service customers know what other products you sell? Remember, your "service" department includes any person who serves the customer, be that a CFI, charter pilot, front desk person, or airport security person.

When I sold airplanes for a living, most of my sales came from the service department, charter department, and flight school department. It does work.