By Connie Denney
Need a break from thinking of customer service as a department in a business, an 800 number with electronic prompts?
I heard about folks waiting in line at the cosmetics counter in Erwin’s Walgreens being told, “I can help you over here,” then replying “Oh, I’ll wait for Pam.” That wasn’t from Pam—that would not be her way.
Being well-taken care of as a customer is not unusual in Erwin. But, it is not necessarily guaranteed in a small town business OR in one with a department named “customer service.” There’s more.
A couple of stories:
About a year into her career here Pam Pasternak, who has been with the store since it opened about 10 years ago, and other employees had been asked to park in the back lot in anticipation of an especially busy time. She was called to the office and asked to move her car back out front. Although she didn’t mind at all where it was parked, the customers did! So she backed her Subaru Outback into its place near the store sign.
It seems that several customers had come into the store and were surprised she was working because they had not seen her car. They told the manager they had hesitated about coming in and others had not come in when Pam’s car was not in place. “Unbelievable, I was as surprised as anybody. …This has happened several times over the years. …”
Another time a couple she had helped previously came in and waited in her line. After she made sure they got the free item in a buy-one-get-one deal, the wife looked at her husband saying, “See why I will only shop here at the Erwin Walgreens.” By the time their transaction was finished, he was saying that he had told his wife one Walgreens was as good as another but was wrong. He added that they had passed four Walgreens on their way and would be shopping only at this one now.
Folks come regularly from Jonesborough, Gray, Johnson City and North Carolina to the Erwin store, Pam says. She has given permission for other employees to give out her schedule.
When I asked why she is good at serving customers, Pam said she really doesn’t know. She reflects on being raised, along with two brothers, by a working mother long before a lot of help was available. She was close to her grandparents. Not surprisingly, she likes and cares about people. “Everyone has a story—it’s what has made them who they are. Some have happy lives and some not so good, so I always try to make (them) feel better. I want them to know someone cares. …”
“Just a cute tidbit that I find funny now,” Pam says, as she remembers the manager who hired her suggesting that it would be important for her to check customers out in her department, as they would tend to go to the front register. She smiled and said “Okay.”
“I define customer service by not worrying about selling them such and such, but by meeting their needs whethe it’s just a listening ear, or a complaint that maybe I can help with, or finding a solution to a particular problem—just seeing them as a person first, not necessarily our customer—just show you care. They know when you’re sincere.”
So be it.