Thursday, October 9, 2008

Customer Service Redux

By: Lee Distad

Last week, John Thomson, the Associate Publisher of Marketnews & here’s how! Magazines wrote a fantastic blog post entitled “Customer Service – Doesn’t Everyone Behave Like This?” about his refreshingly positive experience in an American retail store. In addition to thanking him for writing it, I wanted to expand on his thesis a little with my own opinions.

One of my old mentors in big box retail liked to say to us “retail is easy: you’re selling stuff to people!” In his mind, anything and everything from operations to merchandising needed to address that core principle, otherwise it was a hindrance to doing business rather than a help.

Yet amazingly, as retailers we often find ourselves shackled in chains of our own making. All of us, at some point in our careers have either created or blindly followed unfriendly policies without really thinking it through. Less than 5% of customers are “problem customers” who either steal, swindle or abuse return policies (“renters” as we used to call them), yet often retailers create policies intended to foil that 5% while inadvertently alienating the 95% of customers that we want to keep.

I’m certainly not advocating that when you have a genuine problem customer you should indulge them, but what’s important is that in a customer service situation you have a clear picture of who and what you’re dealing with, right now, and make a decision that’s in both yours and the customer’s best interest, at that time. A little creativity and goodwill will take you a long way in building lasting relationships with your clients.

Oftentimes, little details that we think are a good idea are in fact bad ones. A few years ago, on a trip to Victoria, we stopped in at a little boutique in the Inner Harbour whose name escapes me but it was a toy store with a year-round Christmas theme: mid-summer and there were Christmas decorations everywhere! Since my wife is absolutely bonkers about Christmas, of course we had to check it out!

Years in retail have left me really hard to impress when it comes to merchandising, but this store was beautiful; too beautiful in fact. All over the store mixed in with every single display were little 5x7 hand-written note cards with exquisite penmanship forbidding and admonishing against touching anything, and with a snotty tone to boot: “don’t touch the displays;” “please keep your children off of the rocking horses;” “absolutely do not touch or fold the tags on the Beanie Babies.” You get the picture. Never mind that I wasn’t inclined to do any of the above in the first place, the warnings everywhere made me feel like a four year old being scolded to be on my best behaviour.

I get that the proprietors take pains to make their store a work of art, but honestly, if you don’t want anyone to touch anything ever, open up a toy museum and put everything behind glass. The reality of the situation is that instead of the load of cash I anticipated having to spend following my wife around the store, we didn’t spend a dime. As they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and theirs wasn’t positive. Since the customers are the ones who make our paycheques, care needs to ensure that our relationship with them is not only profitable, but enjoyable.

Bookmark and Share

No comments: