An Excerpt from “Who’s Your Gladys”: Customers Aren’t Problems, They’re People

Filed in Blog, Customer Service, Guest Blog by on March 30, 2012
An Excerpt from “Who’s Your Gladys”: Customers Aren’t Problems, They’re People

Today I’d like to share with you a guest blog post from Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest of Who’s Your Gladys.

The following Blog Entry is an excerpt from our book, “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan.”

Paul Reed Smith Guitars (PRS) manufactures high-end instruments that are played by rock stars, coveted by collectors, and enjoyed by enthusiasts around the world. In an industry where competing brands have been in existence for centuries, this relatively new kid on the block, founded in 1985, has earned its place in guitar-making history with a gold standard for quality. Its success is due to the spectacular beauty and sound of its guitars and the passion that PRS people put into their work.

Throughout the company, we found a commitment to service that is so enthusiastic that customers have created fan club forums on the Internet to rave about both the products and the people there who take care of their needs. When we spoke to guitar-building icon Paul Reed Smith and his senior-level managers, we discovered highly passionate professionals with a heartfelt desire to bring the best possible instruments to life for their customers. That passion translates into happy customers who love both the guitars and the company itself.

“I have a lot of flexibility to solve problems, so I try to figure out what’s motivating the customer and what is behind their anger.”

Employees in all positions within PRS are allowed significant latitude in straightening out their customers’ issues. “I have a lot of flexibility to solve problems, so I try to figure out what’s motivating the customer and what is behind her anger,” said Shawn (manager of customer service.) “Some people just want to be recognized or made to feel special. Basically, it is a negotiation. We have some rules and guidelines we like to follow as far as what is covered under warranty, but I want to figure out what it is they want to accomplish.”

Shawn is quick to say, “I don’t have any enlightened answer. I put myself in their position. When I hear, ‘Look, I just spent three thousand dollars on a guitar and this doesn’t work or that doesn’t work,’ I ask myself, how would I feel if it were me? I would ask, ‘Hey, will you make this problem go away?’” Shawn’s words probably won’t make it on a motivational calendar, but they pretty much say it all: “A customer is not a problem on the phone, he’s a person.”

Shawn answers up to 500 e-mails a week as well as numerous phone calls with requests like, “I’m interested in your guitars. Can you tell me more about them?” or “I bought a used guitar and want to confirm the serial number for it,” or “I love the guitar, but I’d like to get some pickups that make it sound more vintage.” He also gets calls from customers with warranty issues.

“I encourage Shawn to tell me when he can’t do it alone so I can add another person,” said his team leader, the director of marketing at PRS, Peter Wolf. “Adding another person isn’t necessarily something that a CFO would want to do because it costs money, but at the end of the day, if you have 500 people out there who are happy, you need only one person who’s not to take out 500. What we do is try to make people happy.”

Shawn’s passion for handling customer phone calls and e-mails properly has resulted in a very personal approach. “I try to speak or write to people as if it’s two friends having a conversation about guitars,” Shawn explained. “I don’t like phony perkiness, and I don’t like that robotic response that almost sounds like voice mail.” He does his best to respond to every inquiry the same day. “I believe that everyone deserves an answer.”

A customer from Kosovo sent Shawn an e-mail that started with an apology: “I’m sorry for my English,” he began. Shawn put him at ease, responding with, “That’s all right; you should hear me speak Albanian!” The man’s guitar had a broken tuner, and he didn’t have a distributor in his country. Shawn got the information he needed from the man, who received the required tuner 10 days later. The customer soon wrote him an e-mail that said, “I used to love PRS guitars and now I love the whole company.”

This customer affirmed why Shawn Nuthall is passionate about giving great service. “We have a less than 1 percent return rate. I think we have the best product out there,” he noted. “It’s easy to support something that is so good. We stand behind the guitars. If there is any problem, we make things right.”

Click here to buy your copy of Who’s Your Gladys?


To learn more about Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest please visit their website at



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