Tips on how to reach customer service nirvana

Several weeks ago, I took my car to a Sears Auto Tire & Repair to have a flat tire replaced -- for free, since my wife had the brilliant foresight to get a warranty. (OK, honey, you can stop looking over my shoulder.)

I was stunned because to my utter shock, I experienced some great customer service. For starters, Sears has a bad rap, sometimes deserved, for customer service. But I was also stunned simply because customer service is more and more often hard to come by anywhere.

The guy who was in charge somehow managed to wait on me and two other customers at once, so that none of us had to go more than about 60 seconds without talking to someone. He was unfailingly polite. And when I was ushered into a waiting room, they had free Internet service, free coffee (I don't like coffee, but I appreciated it), vending machines and a TV, and I could watch my car through a window, so I always knew how my tire was progressing. I left within 45 minutes and was floored -- because the customer experience was fantastic. (Anyone at Sears, whoever runs the tire place near the Kenwood Mall in Cincinnati -- give that person a raise.)

And then, driving home, I got a little miffed because good customer service, of course, should be the norm. Instead, I had found myself thrilled because I wasn't ignored and then shuttled off to wait in a dark corner. Honestly, I think if the clerk had belittled me and then thrown me down a flight of stairs, and my two front teeth had fallen out, I might have said optimistically, "Hey, this isn't so bad. I mean, as long as they're going to fix my tire ..."