Recently I was home alone while my wife was attending a block course in Auckland. As I sat down to dinner one evening, I looked at the steak on my plate and my mind, as it is wont to do, wandered off on a tangent. The tangent it took me down, inspired by that home-grown and awesomely tasty piece of fillet steak, was customer service.

Now, I hear you ask, what made you think of customer service as you looked at your steak? It is, indeed, a random connection, even for someone like myself who is pretty adept at random connections. In this case, however, it was an apt one.

You see, we have the great fortune to live in rural North Canterbury on a small lifestyle block. Other than planting thousands of native trees, we raise a few animals on our block, sheep and cattle among them. We’ve been growing our own meat ever since we moved to the country around 25 years ago. It’s nice to know where one’s food comes from and, if something has to die for our consumption, at least we know that our stock, barring the last five minutes or so, had happy lives.

A quick, but important side note: I’m well aware that eating meat is an economic luxury and that there are many people who rarely, if ever, have the ability to afford to eat meat. For them, the closest they might come is some cheap mince or some non-descript sausages which only vaguely follow any natural definition of what a meat product actually is. But privilege aside, growing our own meat gives an interesting insight into what it takes to produce a nice steak or leg of lamb.

Anyway, back to the topic. Growing our own food means that we also have to sort our own butchery. While I have experimented with butchering our own stock, it’s not my forte and hence we have to find home-kill processors who will kill and process our meat. This might sound like a simple-enough problem, but this is where the customer service issues come in. Over the years we have used a number of different homekill services with greatly varying approaches to customer service.

I’m not talking fancy schmancy stuff here like monogrammed freezer bags or a cordon bleu chef to go with our meat. Rather I am talking about the basics – things like answering phone messages or emails, delivering on time or showing up when promised. Now one of the awesome things about living in the country is the relaxed pace of life. Things are pretty zen out our way and people don’t get too uptight about things. Folks are happy to go with the flow generally speaking.

I’m all for going with the flow, but in a busy world. for all the Zen intent in the world, sometimes we just need to get our messages answered. Or perhaps we schedule our days so that we can fit everything in and we really need people to show up on time.

We have used a succession of different home kill butchery providers over the years and until very recently those individuals all shared a common trait. Perhaps there’s a function of being part of an industry that the growth of large supermarket chains has decimated or perhaps it simply goes with the territory, but we have been surprised with just how poor the customer service has been in the meat processing industry.
We’re only small-scale lifestylers and I totally understand that processing a cattle beast or a few sheep every year or two is neither here nor there for a butcher. Notwithstanding this, however, I have been surprised at how the simple things of customer service get forgotten: answering emails or phone calls, or actually turning up on the allotted date.
This is why it’s been refreshing getting to know my butcher mate John at The Butcher’s Mistress in Rangiora. He’s exactly what you’d expect from an old-school butcher – with a big booming voice and a frame to match. Despite being part of what must be a difficult industry, he remains positive and friendly. He’s also, like the old-time butchers, proud of his craft. His display cabinet is the sort of thing that makes my mouth water and horrifies my vegetarian duaghter-out-of-law.
But the best thing about John is that he delivers. I don’t mean that he delivers our processed meat, but rather he delivers in terms of customer service. He answers his emails, gets back to my inane question about sausage flavours on Messenger, and gets our meat processed when he says it will.
It seems bizarre to write an entire opinion piece just about a guy who simply does his job. But in this day and age, it is sadly a dying trait. As commerce gets concentrated in fewer and fewer massive organisations, it’s the individual small business owners who deserve our respect and support.
Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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