Now a wise shopkeeper himself, the gentleman remembers the early days helping around his own parents’ store. From the moment they found him mature enough to handle a position on the sales floor and just tall enough to reach the keys to the cash register, his father instilled and re-inforced in him a few basic principles of business. His father had insisted the guidelines be always in practice and never forgotten. The alternative would be for the lad to be vanquished forever to the storeroom to mop the floor and assemble the latest shipment of wheel barrows. At the time, given the choices, it didn’t seem to be real complicated points to remember:
- The customer is always right. While it is quite true in any practical sense that no one, even customers, can always be right, it is an absolute truth in business that the customer is always the customer. In other words, it’s the same difference.
- Always extend a friendly greeting to every customer upon arrival. “Your old enough to count to ten in your head,” his father surmised, “be sure you welcome the customer before you get to the count of six.”
- Be quiet and listen to the customer. Find out what they want or need and what problem they need your help to solve. Then solve it.
- Answer the phone politely by the third ring (back then phones only rang) “without sounding like your mouth is full of mush.”
- “Spit out the gum!”
- “Never forget to say thank you! You can never thank a customer enough for their business when you have just taken their money” his father insisted.
It was really basic stuff, and it is often said that those were simpler times, but is performing successful customer service really that simple? With the responses many of customers receive today from businesses they regularly frequent, both large and small, apparently it can be argued that “no,” it’s not that simple. Why else would so many businesses be failing at regularly practicing the theory of consumer sovereignty; the suggestion that consumers, not producers, are the best judge of what products and services benefit them the most and that the consumer is the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to where and on what they spend their money?
Too often managers today are quick to blame their service inadequacies on the lack of interest and poor work ethics of the new generation of workers. But a post-mortem of failed customer service practices indicates that the responsibility for the failure to establish and maintain adequate customer service does not lie solely with the company’s representatives at the customer level. Many leaders of today’s big companies are too intensely focused on the bottom line, hiring the least expensive and least qualified employees and providing them with only the most basic training in the mechanics of running the sales floor, often limiting the decisions employees are permitted to make in order to adequately address the customer’s concerns.
There exists, in these failed institutions, a clear lack of understanding of the positive influence and impact motivated, eager, customer centered employees have at the point where the company sales goals first meet with the consumer.
In a digital age when customer contact is made and terminated with a swift flick on a mouse pad, businesses are improving their odds of success by providing a pleasant, productive and repeat customer experience.
Many successful companies have discovered the importance of delivering an excellent customer experience. In fact most are surviving and prospering among their competitors by providing customers with that which the competition is neither able to provide or willing to provide – a positive customer experience on every visit at every level of contact.
Companies like Bath and Body Works; L.L. Bean; Lowe’s Home Improvement; and the online pet supply site chewy.com come to mind as providing topnotch customer service. Consumers can certainly identify their own a handful of customer-friendly enterprises. These companies have learned to treat each customer as an individual, to make them feel central to the organization’s every effort and to constantly strive to anticipate their wants and needs while working to make each customer contact an emotional experience not just a logical one.
In the end, whether today or yesterday, it’s really not complicated. Failing to successfully deploy an effective customer service strategy in a competitive market environment will result in disappointed customers turning instead to the competition.