Curing Customer Service
Despite reams of research about the decline in customer service, there’s been little improvement, say experts. Here’s how to beat the odds
A prominent columnist writing in Visual Merchandising & Store Design magazine recently described a customer-service nightmare he experienced at a stationery store where he went to replace his daily planner. Seeing a confusing array of products, he asked a sales associate for help. The young mans reply made it clear he knew little about planners or helping customers.
You ought to learn your merchandise so you can help me, the columnist told him.
You ought to quit being an asshole, the associate replied.
Within an hour, the sales associate was fired, but the columnist wondered how such a person slipped through the net of this companys recruitment, hiring and training programs. For Bette Price, a leadership consultant, the answer is pretty simple. She says todays young sales associates probably have never experienced much in the way of customer service themselves. In this flip, sarcastic world, the sales associate probably thought he was funny, sort of like Chandler on the TV show Friends.
Customer service must be thought of as a leadership issue, Price says. Reading about it, being told about it and attending training are not the same as being on the receiving end of good customer service. It becomes incumbent upon leadership to ensure that good customer service is modeled and rewarded. People grasp what they experience.
Nowhere is this more important than when a customer has a problem with your merchandise or service. If a sales associate doesnt know how to handle the problem, you could be losing customers. Statistics show that when customers are told the truth and provided with honest answers and solutions, says Price, they not only remain customers, but their loyalty is enhanced.
Newer sales associates should be advised to bring customer complaints immediately to the manager, who can demonstrate how to handle them. Next, the sales associate should be allowed to try out his new skills in problem-solving, still under the supervision of the boss. The boss should stay within earshot so he or she can give honest feedback afterward (or step in should the need arise).
Making Good on the Promise
Good customer service can be a marketing bonanza, says Price, especially if you make it the centerpiece of your brand. But first everyone who works for you has to understand what you mean by customer service. You should describe it, preferably in your mission and service-standards statements. Your mission statement could read: To offer service standards that ensure our customers leave the store believing no other jeweler could offer better education, quality and long-term care. Your service standards then could require:
u Sales associates to know the features and benefits of every piece of jewelry in their area of expertise.
u The store to commit to quality craftsmanship in every piece of jewelry it makes or buys and offer replacements if a piece fails.
u Sales associates to keep files on all customers and their purchases so they can be reminded about scheduled cleanings, repairs and inspections.
Price says owners and managers must refer to their mission and service-standards statements often in front of sales associates and hang a copy of them in a prominent location.
Bette Price is a consultant, speaker and coauthor of True Leaders: How Exceptional CEOs and Presidents Make a Difference by Building People and Profits (Dearborn Press, 2001). Contact her at (972) 404-0787 or Bette@pricegroupleadership.com.