THE LAST BLOCKBUSTER

By Rachel Stewart| August 10, 2018 |

At the end of July this year, there was a quiet but significant end to a small holy war of sorts.

You didn’t hear about it?

Well, “holy war” might be a smidge dramatic.  It was more of a personal crusade, but it was significant nonetheless.

Somewhere near the turn of the recent century, I rented The Hunt for Red October from my local Blockbuster video store.  About 1/3 of the way into the film, just as Alec Baldwin was being dropped into a submarine in the North Atlantic, the DVD stopped working.  It was 9:30 at night and the video was due the next morning by 8:00.

I called Blockbuster and explained the situation.  The next morning, I had a college final to take and didn’t want to just drop the movie into the box without getting another copy or a refund, so I showed up after class around 11:00 a.m. to resolve the situation.

They said they couldn’t give me a replacement.  They said I would need to rent the movie again.  But first, I would need to pay the late fee.

What??

I carefully explained that the movie was only late because I wanted to get a replacement for the DVD that didn’t work.  The clerk just pointed at the clock.  And wouldn’t budge.  He wouldn’t adjust the late fee.  He wouldn’t give me a new, working copy of the movie I had already paid to watch.  He wouldn’t do anything except helpfully point out that the movie was late.

Not only would I never know whether Sean Connery was actually trying to defect from Russia or, instead, orchestrate a large-scale nuclear attack on the United States, they wanted me to pay a LATE FEE and ANOTHER rental fee to find out.  Oh, the injustice of it!

I was shocked.  And then I was mad.

I vowed I would NEVER rent another video from Blockbuster again.  I told the story over and over to my friends and family, to strangers at the gym, to the clerk at the grocery checkout, to people at church, and anyone else who would listen.  Not only would I never rent from Blockbuster again, I tried to get everyone I knew to never rent from Blockbuster as well.

At the time, most people just rolled their eyes at me, but here we are, nearly two decades later, and clearly, my personal vendetta has made a huge impact.   This July the last two Blockbuster video stores quietly and permanently closed in Alaska, nearly 8 years after the company filed for bankruptcy and closed its stores in the lower 48 states.  A clear victory in my own personal Cold War!

When my sister saw the article online about the final stores closing, she sent me a text: “I guess you showed them.”  And we all had a really good laugh.

All joking aside, remembering this experience reminded me again of the importance of cultivating really good customer service in our business.  Clearly, Blockbuster’s customer service wasn’t the only reason for their demise. Their inability to adapt to a changing world also played a significant role.  But their late fee policy illustrates their failure to see the experience from their customer’s point of view.

In our restoration business, a couple of things have made a huge difference as we have tried to raise our standards and provide excellent customer service by remembering that it is always people over politics.  This is the part of the model that fell apart for the clerk at Blockbuster.  He couldn’t see past the company late fee policy to understand my situation.  How many times do we do this?  How often do we value our own well-meaning company policies over the very people we created the business to help?

This shift in priorities may require an entire cultural shift in the mindset of everyone on the team.  A company that values their customers over their business policies will allow their employees the freedom to keep the customer the focus in any given situation.

Often companies try to take the easy road and simply say to the customer, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.  It’s against company policy.”  The customer will assume, like I did that day at Blockbuster, that I have simply chosen the wrong company to work with, and they are not likely to make that same mistake again or refer their friends either.

The alternative is to empower and even encourage our employees to come up with solutions to help our customers.  This doesn’t have to involve a blatant disregard for company operational boundaries, but it can involve some leeway and some latitude when a customer wants and needs something that challenges the operational norms.  These should be seen as opportunities to use creativity and thought to really listen to our customers and then address their specific situation.

Regardless of if you are a contractor or a claims professional, we owe it to our clients to give our employees autonomy to resolve customer service issues.  It is their job, and their customer.  They know the dynamics of the situation and are best equipped to respond appropriately.

Obviously, our customers are the very reason our businesses exist.  But, in the day-to-day operational, managerial, and logistical concerns of our work, it’s sometimes easy to forget that.   In reality, without our customers, we would just have warehouses full of quiet fans.  Without them, we would have idle trucks and unoccupied techs and empty bank accounts.

As funny as it is to think back on how incensed I was about my treatment as a Blockbuster customer, the truth is that without me—yes, a lot of me’s—there wouldn’t be a reason for Blockbuster to even have a store.

In many ways, it may be helpful to think of your business as very, very small.  Serving just one customer.  Because it really is just a business of one—many ones, adding up—but really just one.  That one counts.  That one is your customer.  That one is your business.  This perspective can completely change the way your view customer service.

What do you do to ensure exceptional customer service?  Have you been on the wrong end of a nightmare customer service story of your own?  And most importantly, whatever happened to Sean Connery on that Russian submarine…does he make it to America or blow the world to smithereens?  (Spoiler alert!)