Monday, April 26, 2010

Customer Service - A Lost Art Form

If you're my friend on facebook you already know how upset I am at the world's customer service or lack thereof. So much so that I feel I need to write about it yet again!!!

Personally I have, inadvertently, made customer service my life and my entire professional career. Starting at 13 when I began babysitting for cash, then at 15 when I got my first job at Brown's Flooring, then on to L.S. Ayers at 19 to work for Estee Lauder, up to Chicago at age 20 working for Lancome then Christian Dior at Lord & Taylor, back to Indianapolis to Parisian with Dior and Elizabeth Arden, on to Jacobson's working for Laura Mercier cosmetics, into the Spa industry at 24 as Retail Manager/Head Make up artist at David & Mary, and finally the end of my tenure working for others ended in Corporate America as an Executive Assistant. Whew! I say this to reiterate that EVERY position I've ever held is in some way giving people a service, filling a need, or fixing a problem in order to make someone else happy (whether it was my fault or not!).

Not quite sure what has happened to customer service or maybe I'm being too hard on people because I know what I should expect in regards to good customer service. I'm not even striving to receive GREAT customer service anymore - good would be a huge upgrade! Didn't any one's mother ever tell them that "you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar?" or "actions speak louder than words?" Apparently not.

Customer service does not only apply only to fashion or to retail. I'm talking grocery stores, salons, government offices (one of the best places for HORRIBLE customer service by the way!), Starbucks, Real Estate, school administrative offices, heating and cooling, carpet cleaning, etc. You get the point. defines customer service in this manner: assistance and other resources that a company provides to the people who buy or use its products or services. Let's just focus on the first word here - assistance. Does anyone help you or even ask you if you need help anymore? Rarely but it's not the norm. On to the word resources. If you are assisted and you can't find the dress you want in gold at that store does anyone call another store to help you find your dress? Again, not often. It's too much work for the person who's getting paid to help you but doesn't have the time or energy to do so. It baffles my mind, seriously.

What happened to "the customer is always right?" Now I KNOW for a fact, from personal experience, that the customer isn't always right. BUT one must do everything in their power to fix the situation and retain customer loyalty no matter what business you are in. Being a small business owner now I know how important reputation and your word is in business. Like I stated on my facebook page customer service will make or break your business in seconds.

There are so many options for customers these days and so many places of business doing the same things. How do you set yourself apart and how do you keep customers coming back to your business specifically? People pay hundreds and thousands of dollars for marketing firms and PR firms to answer this question for their businesses and I'm giving it to you at no charge. CUSTOMER SERVICE!!! That's your answer! Treat others as you would want to be treated then even go above that another 10%.

A few tips:
  • Assist your customer throughout the entire transaction but know when to back away if they need time to make a decision. That's common courtesy.

  • Respect their feelings. If they really don't care for the earrings you've designed and took you 52 hours to create then just chalk it up to everyone has different taste and find them something else they like. You can't take anything personally when it comes to sales or service.

  • Smile and be nice. Don't be fake because people can see right through you. Find a job you enjoy doing because it shows in every aspect of your job. Your boss, your co-workers, and your clients can tell if you like what you do by your attitude.

  • This leads me to another point - if you are unhappy and hate your job, your boss, and your co-workers then you probably will take it out on your clients in some form. I know it's a hard job market out there right now but for the love of God please find something else you like to do and stop making others around you miserable!!! It's easier if you figure this out before your boss does!

  • Your livelihood rides on the service you provide and client retention. Think of every person who walks through your door or visits your web site as a potential meal for your family. If you lose them you may not eat. That's extreme but you see where I'm going with this.

  • A compliment goes a long way. Again, don't be fake but use compliments to gain rapport with the client. You don't know what that client has been through that day and you could be the one person to change the direction of their day for the better - sometimes their life if you're really good!

  • Be helpful. If you are explaining your return policy to a client and they just aren't getting it then you keep explaining it and explaining it until they do understand - and be nice about it. Rolling of the eyes or an exasperated sigh helps no one.

  • Exceed expectations. This is a big one and this one will set you a part. Not only meet your client's immediate need but add in a little extra. A free gift. Deliver an order to their door yourself. Provide refreshments during work hours (all sects of business can do this). Help a new mom with her baby while she tries on her first post pregnancy outfit. Offer discounts on their next visit. Find that "something extra" that fits your business. It doesn't have take any money out of your pocket.

  • Make your client feel as though they are the only one you have (even if they really are). Make them feel important.

  • Do your research as a business owner and hire really good people. You may spend a little more money up front for good research but in the end you will get a return on investment that is 10x what you first paid. If you wouldn't leave your kids with them, don't hire them. It's true. Again, your business is your life. When you bring someone in to help you that person needs to know how much you have at stake by trusting and hiring them as well as how their attitude and aptitude can make or break YOUR business.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other things you can do to give great customer service. Each segment of business is different but at the end of the day all any of our clients wants is exceptional customer service.

Until then: "You'll never have a product or price advantage again. They can be easily duplicated, but a strong customer service culture can't be copied." - Jerry Fritz

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