Commentary by Bill Stuart
Each year countless companies hold their annual management meetings where the subject of improving customer service always comes up.
Represented by slogans like "We Care About You!" and "The Customer is Priority One," these little gems become the resolution to improve the deteriorating levels of customer service. But just like a New Year's resolution, the follow-through loses momentum and dies an agonizing death -- until it comes back next year.
Why? Because there is a lack of understanding and passion. If you don't believe me, ask the former management of countless defunct dealers who wish they had one more chance.
Seven out of 10 customers who switch to a competitor do so because of service rather than price. A recent study by our company asked customers to rate their retail shopping experiences. The results: poor, 58%; fair, 24%; good, 15%; excellent 3%. (And the excellent rating came from customers who had purchased over the Internet!)
Does your company have a customer service problem? Most likely it does, and if you can't see it or hear it, then you are already headed for the same demise as so many former, and once formidable, electronics chains. Is it avoidable? Yes, but you need to act quickly, allowing your passion to drive you.
The last thing our company wants is a satisfied customer. What does satisfied mean to you? When you answer surveys and say things were satisfactory, did you mean to say they were great or just OK? The latter, of course.
So, do you really want a "satisfied" customer, or do you want one who is thrilled, exhilarated, delighted, beholden or euphoric? Exactly! And what are you doing to make shopping with you an experience?
Remember that both the first and last encounters with your store make an enduring impression. What have you done to improve the customer's experience during the delivery or service phase? If you are making a delivery, how will it be better than your competition? Will you give coupons to Blockbuster or Dominos, will you install complimentary plastic sliders under the sofa legs for the customer's ease of moving furniture, and do you vacuum, or clean the glass on the front door?
The options are endless. But the question is, how are you showing you care? The best way to start is by improving associate morale.
If you are in management, the associate is your customer. Most managers don't think of it that way, and this is where the problem begins. The associate often treats the customer with the same respect you show them.
Companies spend millions on marketing studies that tell them more about their customers. But how much have you invested in learning about your associates? Here's a little test. Think of two associates you know very well and ask yourself these questions:
- What are their aspirations, both in their work and personal lives? Have you helped them achieve these?
- When are their birthdays? Did you recognize them in any way?
- What are their spouses' names? When are their anniversaries, and did you recognize them in any way?
- How many children, if any, do they have, and what are their names? Have you ever asked about them?
- What is their favorite activity outside of work? Ever initiated a discussion about it?
Human nature dictates that you might be feeling a little ashamed right now. If these are two associates you know very well, can you imagine what you don't know about your other employees?
Don't be embarrassed, you are the norm in management today. I hope now, however, you have a better feel for what passion means. Show passion and interest in your people, and most of them will do the same for your customers.
Will all associates respond this way? No, but the majority will. For those who don't, get rid of the weeds and seed your organization with new people who reflect the right attitude. Feed them with attention so they will grow.
Make the commitment to service before your company is left wishing it had just one more chance to do it right.
Stuart & Associates is a hardlines consultancy that specializes in sales and margin improvement for retailers and manufacturers. For more information, call (615) 591-2288, contact the company's website at www.bettersales.com, or e-mail principal Bill Stuart at Wstuart714@aol.com.