COLUMN: Serve your customers

MARTIN, S.D. -- Recently, I attended the South Dakota Governor's Economic Development Conference in Sioux Falls, S.D. The keynote speaker was Shep Hyken, customer service expert and author from Missouri.


MARTIN, S.D. - Recently, I attended the South Dakota Governor’s Economic Development Conference in Sioux Falls, S.D. The keynote speaker was Shep Hyken, customer service expert and author from Missouri. 

As he was sharing his message through humor and card tricks, I kept thinking about applying the whole concept of customer service to what we do every day as agriculture producers.
It’s easy to apply a message of customer service if we deal face-to-face, or even online directly with customers. It’s harder to think of our customers when our product gets shipped away and consumed by people we haven’t met.
Hyken talked about “moments of magic,” which are touch points when we can do a little something extra to serve our customers. While that might be harder as a farmer or rancher, there are definitely some moments of magic we can make happen as we visit with consumers of food, which pretty much means everybody. In fact, there are times when we need to turn moments of misery into moments of magic with eaters around us.
Nearly every time my husband and I travel to a larger city or out of the country, we are asked about what we do for a living. When we describe our ranch lifestyle, people are often very curious, and sometimes get a bit defensive as they imagine some of our practices that don’t agree with their thoughts on how to treat the environment or animals. My husband is very good at responding to their questions about how much chemical we put into our soil and water, or how much pain we cause the livestock we raise. He’s good at telling them why we’ve chosen the practices we use, and the benefits we think outweigh the consequences.
People need to be reassured, that as farmers and ranchers we do care deeply about our soil, water, air and livestock. Any time we can tell a more urban consumer our cattle mean the world to us, not just economically, but as God’s creatures we are entrusted to care for, we try to explain our views. We often show photographs of our cows and calves grazing in a wide open pasture with lush green grass, or of an alfalfa field in bloom in the summer.
Crops and livestock in our region are raised in many different ways, but if we don’t strongly believe we are using the best practices for the health of our fields and animals, we might need to rethink our customer service strategies. When we respond to people inquiring about our operations, we should be able to confidently engage in conversation about what we do and the animals we raise for them to eat.
Using Hyken’s concepts of moments of magic, we all can be creative about the stories we choose to tell that are honest examples of the way we live and work. I try to be conscious of the need to listen to consumers concerns and instead of trying to educate them. I try to have a conversation that allows me to hear the areas of mistrust they have, or the myths they’ve learned that bring on their concerns. If I can correct that by sharing stories and real-life examples, that often gains more trust than if I were to cite statistics.
We all have parts of our jobs that we’d like to change. There are parts of the large system of agriculture that could be improved and will likely change with new research and tools. But if we’re proud of what we do and who we serve, we should take a customer service approach to the consumers of our products, and try to offer the real-life perspective only farmers and ranchers can give to eaters.

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