Friday, October 3, 2008

Customer Service – Doesn’t Everyone Behave Like This?

John Thomson, Associate Publisher, Marketnews & here’s how! Magazines, is the guest blogger for today. Enjoy his entry on a recent shopping experience that shed some light on how retailers can and should treat their customers.

Last month, I ended up in Washington, DC, while en route to a family vacation in Cape Hatteras, NC. I had never been to DC, so I was excited to take the kids to the Smithsonian, and see the monuments, Capitol Hill and the White House.

On a reprieve from cultural activities, the family wandered from store to store in Georgetown, a very hip and trendy suburb of DC. One of the shops that we strolled in to is called Vineyard Vines, a clothing store founded in 1998 by brothers Ian and Shep Murray. Think Polo meets Brooks Brothers meets Roots. Essentially, a great shop of casual clothes that you’d expect to see worn on an island holiday. The store is bright, well laid out with lots of photos of celebrities and politicians wearing Vineyard ties. There are media clippings showcasing the success of the Vineyard Vines brand on the wall, and big comfy sofas with coffee table books on topics like sailing and island life.

The store is designed in a way that makes you want to hang around, all the more so by the welcoming nature of the staff. When we walked in, the sales team said hello, thanked us for coming in, and took the kids over to a sofa where a Disney movie was playing. They asked my wife Cathy and I if we’d like a bottle of water while we looked around, and showed us the ‘fridge where we could help ourselves to additional bottles. Everything was a delight. I plopped myself on a sofa while Cathy tried things on, as did the girls. The sales team worked in tandem finding sizes for my gang. They also treated my 11 year old like she was 20, enthusiastically complimenting her on her wardrobe choices and treating her like a customer rather than the child of a customer.

Naturally we bought. Boy, did we buy! At the counter, I noticed they were selling a book with a rather goofy name called Hug Your Customers by Jack Mitchell. Being Canadian, I had no idea who Jack Mitchell is, but I do know who Warren Buffett is, and when he is saying that this is a must-read book, I take notice. Looking for an opinion on the book, I asked the young guy ringing us through if he’s read it. Not only had he read it, but it is a mandatory read for any person wanting to work for Vineyard Vines and the customer service principles outlined in the book are the golden rules for the organization.

I bought the book. If I can be that impressed with the way I was treated at Vineyard Vines and this book plays a role in the retailer’s culture, than sign me up! The underlying theme of the book is that the only way to stay in business is with customers, and that a relationship with your customers is at the heart of every transaction. In other words, hug your customers. I finished the book and passed it along to Damien in our office, and he’s now passing it along to Christine who will then give it to Lindsay. It turns out that Jack Mitchell owns a couple of clothing stores run as a family business. His suburban locations are a train ride from arguably the best shopping in America (NYC), yet his stores achieve among the highest margins in the industry with incredible customer loyalty.

I still think that the book has a goofy name, but since finishing it, I find myself analyzing every transaction that I am exposed to on a daily basis. The frown on the lady that sells me a cup of coffee, the lack of a hello from the guy who makes us our sandwich at the mall, to the boutique clothing store that I visit that never calls to say thanks for the business. I didn’t realize how few hugs I am getting until Jack Mitchell wrote about what’s just expected as a common courtesy when you are one of his customers! Jack Mitchell has established a very successful business going into its fourth family generation on the simple principle of a welcoming smile. Something that Vineyard Vines, has certainly borrowed. It sounds so simple. So why isn’t everybody doing it? The problem may be that you think you are.

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Anonymous said...

What an absolutely outstanding story and even better post. Thanks for taking the time to share it!

Mark said...

Makes me want to read it. Nice piece.