A Customer Service Chat with Sherwood Schwarm (Part I)

My father is Sherwood Schwarm and needless to say, he is a people person. I don’t say that to brag but to point out, he’s met thousands of people in his life – at work, through the neighborhood, family, church, and during his leisure years. Raising 8 children and being married to my Mom, Mary Jane, for over 62 years has given him so much perspective and insight into how to care for and serve people.

Therefore, I wanted to interview him about how to treat people and his overall customer service approach. From his experience, what works or what doesn’t? Does he have any customer service stories to share, either good or not so good? How much of serving others is common sense or just being considerate or both?  This interview attempts to capture his unique customer service approach and his special way of treating those in the service industry with friendliness, respect and courtesy.

How would you define customer service?

Type of service you experience in a good way. Does the building exterior look good? Clean restrooms? Is the manager friendly? I had one restaurant where they were painting the bathroom and I recommended that they also clean the dirt off the bathroom vent but when I returned, it wasn’t cleaned. I reminded them again, still not cleaned. I asked again and they said it would be taken care of but still not addressed. It’s somewhat hopeless. We still visit the restaurant even though this was never addressed. How’s that for service and responsiveness?

We did report another restaurant to the health department due to unsanitary conditions and gave the street address and the woman at the health department said, “Hey, we eat there all the time.” Sherwood wonders why some representing the health department would not be suspicious of the one of their favorite restaurants — you had paint chipping from the wall, dirty silverware and a restaurant, which was generally unkempt.

He adds that seniors working in customer service are generally better because they are experienced. The young people need more guidance and correcting sometimes.

Sherwood likes the Golden Coral where workers will check the temperature of the food on a regular basis to ensure it’s good to eat. There is something positive about seeing that.

He adds one more thing about this topic, did you know the menu is the dirtiest part of the restaurant? We’re not germaphobes but don’t get lemons in our drinks, there may be plenty of germs on the rind. We ask for the lemons on the side so those germs don’t touch what we drink.

Is your customer service philosophy unique among your generation? If yes, how so?

Seniors in this area are a little more affluent but many are tight with tipping which is surprising. Sherwood says, “What’s the difference between a Canadian and a canoe, a canoe can tip!” He tips mail carriers, garbage men, and maintenance men — he feels it’s just the right thing to do. He tries to treat people well because that’s common courtesy and he wants to set a positive tone so others may treat his children and grandchildren if they’re in a similar situation.

In what ways has your customer service philosophy been imparted to your children or grandchildren?

Work hard, give customers a good value. Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Thrifty and hard working people and there to serve others. My son’s daughter learned not to litter when she was five and had wrappers in her pocket when her mom did the laundry.

During your career and especially when you were in management working for Racine Public Works and the Parks Department, what customer service challenges did you face?

I was in the service industry where I dealt with solid waste, and in the ash division and had to be careful providing good service to homeowners. When I plowed snow, I had to pacify homeowners and tried to be delicate when plowing snow into someone’s driveway. Needed empathy in those jobs.

Regarding baseball diamonds, taught my folks to make them look nice for ball players even if you didn’t play soft wall, imagine how you’d like the ball diamond to look. When I maintained golf courses, my boss wanted me to join the golf league to understand how to maintain golf courses but with so many kids, I didn’t have the time. However, I learned to know what a neat golf course would look like. Worked hard on the golf courses during the summer and was equally dedicated to the toboggan slide during the winter.  Sometimes I came home late from work as I was busy ensuring the toboggan slide was ready to go…You have a product or service and you work hard to make it nice for those customers. Take pride in what you do.

Does the customer ever have a role in customer service?

I think if you’re nice and friendly to the server that sets a positive tone. You might make a nice comment about something they’re wearing. Personality goes a long way.

(Continue with Part II)


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