Originally published in Twice Magazine
What is good customer service? This is a question that many in the retail environment ask, and I've been giving it a great deal of thought.
What is the definition of good customer service? I'm not talking about return policies or ease of shopping. I'm talking about good old-fashioned customer courtesy. We spend so much time making the shopping environment high-tech and flashy that we forget what really gets us sales: If the customer likes the people in the store, they'll buy.
In training seminars, I teach one simple rule about customer service: Treat the customer like you're glad they're shopping in your store. If you can't do that, then maybe retail, or for that matter any business where you interact with customers, isn't for you.
Lately I've noticed that people don't seem to care that you're a customer in their establishment. Why do so many sales associates react like I'm bothering them when I have a question? Why does the person behind the car rental counter refuse to look up the entire time I'm at the counter? What the heck is going on?
I believe it's crucial to teach the art of being nice. A lot of companies have rules about greeting the customer within a certain time frame or space. What ends up occurring is that customers get greeted because the salesperson was told it's policy to do so. Why not teach the fact that customers like to be greeted? Or better still, why not make it policy to hire people who like to talk to people? If you need to spend a long time teaching someone how to greet the customer in a friendly manner, perhaps you've hired the wrong person.
Maybe it's a reflection on society that people aren't all that polite to each other in everyday life. I don't pretend to have the answers to society's problems. The point, sad but true, is that some people need training on the art of being nice to customers. Why? Here are some possible explanations:
- We hire to fill holes.
- We don't interview properly.
- We don't teach customer service expectations.
- Appraisals aren't performed objectively to address the level of associates' customer service.
- Management isn't setting the example on the floor.
- Morale is low in the store.
Conversely, here's what you can do to change things:
Stop filling holes and start hiring the right people. Hire people you would D.I.E. to have on the sales floor, those with desire, interest and enthusiasm.
- Look for people who will talk freely during the interview. Do they get you into the conversation?
- Get more than one opinion. Use other members of management to offer their insight on the potential new hire.
- Create an abbreviated quarterly appraisal. An annual appraisal sends the signal that behavior will only be reviewed once a year.
- Add an extensive customer interaction training section to new hire orientations.
- On mystery shops, assess "associate demeanor toward customer."
- Ensure that upper management is setting a positive example when visiting the store.
- Review your recognition and reward programs for excellence in good customer service.
- In any sales training make sure a big part of the selling process is getting the customer to feel comfortable with the sales associate.
Spending millions on store design, technological advances and merchandise training is important, but you run the risk of diminishing your return on investment if you're not looking at your human resources and customer service training.
Who knows, maybe it will spill over to our everyday lives. One can only hope.