Customer service? Two strange little words that are totally non-existent in today’s hurried, hectic, and non-personal world. As you read this article, I want you to think about what kind of service YOU have received recently. Whether that service was given in a restaurant, a retail store, grocery store, or maybe even at one of those “ten minute lube joints” when your car was ready to blow up because you went to long between oil changes. In today’s environment when everybody wants it now, actually yesterday, versus tomorrow, customer service seems to be a long since forgotten, archaic or even “old fashioned” catch words. People equate customer service with being nice, as well it should be, but It seems as though customer service has no place it today’s world….or does it?? Lets take a closer look shall we?
Before I started to venture out into the retail world, most of my early recollections of what customer service should be, were in the realms of military and restaurant work. In most restaurants today, the customer rarely gets the kind of service that he or she thinks they deserve. Do customers really “deserve” to get quality customer service these days?? You BET they do…and they still expect it. What I would like to focus on in this article is not the why, but rather, the HOW to give that “Cut Above” customer service”
I will give some every day common sense and practical approaches to customer service, but I will also delve into the deeper maybe even entertaining ways to accomplish the mission. After all, we all know WHAT customer service is, or what it should be, but most people don’t know the HOW that is involved. It actually involves giving of yourself to make the “other guy” actually feel like they are important enough to make YOU give the effort. After reading this article, you will have the tools necessary to at least get started on your road to better customer service. Utilize these valuable tools, and you might even find yourself with a few more friends and business associates that actually stand up and take notice…of the new you.
The customer IS always right – Yes folks, this old fashioned saying still rings true even if we don’t like to admit it. Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when that customer isn’t right, and you and I know it. However, it is our job as retailers or business owners to take a moment and actually remember this, as if it were the most important concept to remember – because it is. Customers are our lifeblood and without them, we have no business. We had better start taking a closer look at how we…and our employees conduct themselves in relation to treating customers like they deserve to be treated. In the 21 st century, customers have innumerable options available to them, to buy anything under the sun, from chewing gum, to that shiny new car fresh off the lot. They can go to the “Mega” stores, Ma & Pa’s discount outlet, or any myriad of places in between. Here is the bottom line: If YOU want to keep your customers happy, and you want them to spend their time in, and their money on YOUR business, you had better start treating them that way. Make absolutely certain that you make YOUR business their “business of choice” for their consumer needs. If sales are important to you, then customers are important to you. Do what you have to do, when you have to do it, and for how long you have to do it, to make customers know that they are right. They ARE, after all, the reason you stay in business. One more item of note that could be of some use to you in your road towards better customer service….SMILE once in a while. A warm friendly smile goes a long, long way in customer relations. Even the most irate, difficult, and possibly downright obnoxious customer can be swayed “back to the light” so to speak with a simple sincere smile. That leads me into my second point to ponder.
Turn complaints into a Challenge – A challenge you say?? Why yes of course. This may sound crazy to you, but I thoroughly enjoy turning a customers complaint or “concern” if you are more politically correct, into a challenge. When I know that a customer for whatever reason isn’t satisfied with their service or the products that they have received, I use a little something called HOSPITALITY to deal with it. The old adage “kille’m with kindness” could not ring more true. Bells and whistles should ring with loud and reckless abandon here. Hospitality is of paramount importance not only in keeping loyal customers loyal, but also turning a potential lost customer into a sustained customer. It is totally inexplicable to me how so many employees in stores; even MANAGERS have no clue how to go about handling a customer complaint. Its not rocket science folks. A meteor isn’t going to fall from the heavens, smack you on your forehead and “bing” you got it. A little common sense, a lot of genuine sincerity, and some tact will go a long way in resolving the issue. First thing you need to do, even if it pains you to do so…is SMILE. I cannot stress this point enough. Listen to the customer. Make sure you understand the concern and what the customer is feeling about the situation. Always give an apology for the wrong that was done. If you or your business did something to make a customer that upset, and apology is always in order. Explain to the customer honestly what you intend to do about the situation…and do what you have to do to make it right. Lastly, thank the customer…yes, I said THANK the customer for bringing the problem to your attention. It empowers the customer and gives them a sense of accomplishment and makes them feel as though they are important to you. Consider this, that every customer complaint may actually give you an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition. If handled effectively, complaints may actually increase customer and brand loyalty. I like to look at it like this: Make it a goal for EVERY single customer that walks through your door to have a better impression of your business when they leave…than they did when they came in. Handle that customer with care and with sincere professional courtesy and see what happens. Do that, and you will have loyal customers for life.
Use those two little words “Thank You ” – “Thank you”…it rolls off the tongue so easily, however, it is rarely ever used anymore and people look at you as though you had just been scheduled for a lobotomy. Thank you, while only two little words, believe it or not can move mountains. These two words need to be used several times in the process of a business transaction. It reaffirms the customer’s belief that he or she really is important to your business. They are important to you…aren’t they?? If they are, then these two little words need to come out of your mouth as often as possible. Believe it or not, people are indeed human. Even if a customer, in their mind has not had the best experience with your establishment, a simple thank you, coupled with a warm and sincere smile, can go a tremendously long way in having that customer come back. Customers are our lifeblood folks. Blame the economy, call it a recession, or whatever you want, but the real reason that businesses are going under is that they have lost site of what customer service is all about. Many times customers could have been saved if the time and effort would have been expended to do so. Don’t ever be afraid to say thank you to a customer, every time…in every circumstance. They are the reason that we exist. They pay our salaries folks. Extend a little gratitude. We don’t personally have to think that they are our number one priority all the time, but we sure better make THEM feel like they are. These two little words could be crucial in the revitalization of your organization. “Thank You sir/mam for your business, we really appreciate you. Please visit us again”. See that wasn’t so hard was it? Not at all.
Always be upfront and Honest – Honesty IS still the best policy around. When we are upfront and honest with a customer, in every situation, your reputation will be firmly established. A good business reputation is something that money cant buy and is quite priceless when you think of the ramifications of the alternative. If your business makes it a habit to always have honesty and integrity in all of their dealings, customers will sit up and take notice. Honesty is devoid in many places today and the idea of “making a quick buck” has taken the place of: “Sir/Mam, we really don’t have that in stock right now, but if you would like, I can offer a replacement for you”, or how about this: “Sir/Mam, that sandwich has been sitting in the tray for about an hour, can I make you a fresh one?” That customer will be shocked, probably to the point they might even be speechless. Give them that honesty and integrity every time and your business will grow by reputation. The more people can trust you personally, and trust that your company will be forthright and honest with them, the more they will continue to patronize your establishment. Never…ever lie to a customer under any circumstance. If something isn’t so, say so. If it is, then say it is. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to get back to the days where a man’s handshake…was as good as his word? That concept is Old fashioned you say? Maybe so, but it still works.
Take the time and make the effort – Do you want to have a successful business? A simple yes will not suffice here. You need to ask yourself WHAT will it take to make my business successful? A little time and effort into giving good customer service will be invaluable to any business. Its one thing to have the inventory, a plan of action, a mission statement, and good location, enough employees, etc., etc., but if you don’t take the time and make the effort to provide this “cut-above” customer service, I am afraid it will all be for naught. Customers need to shop for goods; that is a given. However, they do not…I repeat do NOT have to shop with your business. They have alternatives, some maybe even more glamorous, cheaper perhaps, and maybe in a more desirable location. The trick is, to make those customers FEEL like they are special. Be extremely hospitable from the time they walk through the doors until the time they leave. Do this, even if they decide not to purchase anything. Your actions, body language, sincerity and hospitality all carry intrinsically more weight than you can possibly imagine. Customer service is “given”, but genuine hospitality is “Felt”. Make that customer feel like they are important to you and that you undoubtedly and without question value their business. A personal greeting when they come through the door and a thank you in acknowledgement of them “stopping by” when they leave are always in good taste…and good business. I will make an analogy for you to ponder. Would you rather dine in a “fine” dining establishment with fancy silverware and bow-tied waiters and receive poor customer service and average food OR would you rather dine in a totally average restaurant, with decent food that gave excellent customer service and made you feel welcome? The latter I would say anytime. I will trade all the fancy and lousy service for average and great service anytime
Well folks THAT is really what it is all about. You know it, I know it, and more importantly….your CUSTOMERS know it. Put these ideas into motion, have your people buy into it, take the time and make the effort to give “cut above” customer service. I would be willing to bet that you will see an increase in not only more loyal customers, but referred customers as well. Business by reputation is a valuable thing, but it does take work. It takes “Cut above” customer service.
The author is the co-founder and CEO of the Direct Sales Company Shopping In The South. He has been directly involved with human relations and customer service work for over fifteen years. Possessing a wealth of knowledge in the areas of customer service and hospitality he truly enjoys working with people. To contact him to speak to your group or organization you can reach him at:
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