Customer Service is a lot like Dating

….at least the rules are the same!

The most important ingredient in the recipe for success is your customer – without the customer there is no retail business.  Consumers are getting savvier and are far more knowledgeable than ever before.  They are more demanding and have more choices now than ever before.

Compare retail now and past, as close as 3 years ago, and you would be looking at a different industry.  In the past customers accepted bad customer service as the norm.  Today’s customer no longer accepts it, is vocal and can influence others, on and off line!

It is not enough to know who your customers are, you need to know what their needs are, what appeals to them, where they are and how to treat them.  You also need to recognise that not everybody that walks into your store is a customer and that you cannot be all things to all people.  So select and define your customer carefully.

The right customer profile will ensure that you buy the right product, have the right staff and communicate effectively, ensuring you will maximise the profitability of your business.

It is my belief that each business does not really sell the products on the shelf, it sells customer service and this is what sets one store apart from the others.  I have always viewed Customer Service as problem solving, customers come into your store with a need, sometimes they don’t know what this is, and it is your job to solve the problem or find something that meets the need.

Once you have defined your customer and their needs, then you can start to build a relationship with them.  By meeting their needs you will build trust and comfort with your customer, they feel good about shopping in your store, they know that you are the authority and they trust they are getting value when they shop in your store.

Defining what is good customer service is harder than it sounds.  It is not as simple as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and smiling at them when they enter the store (although these are important too!).

Customer Service is having what they want, when they want it. Customer Service encompasses every element and aspect of your business that communicates how your store and your products meet the needs and wants of the customer.
It is great to build the relationship but you need to have the goods to back it up.
Exceptional Customer Service is going that extra step that the customer does not expect or experience with your competitors.  It must be constant and consistent.
Exceptional Customer Service happens before, during and after the sale.

In the current retail market, the competitive advantage of each business will be their customer service.  It is no longer enough to have just good customer service, you need to aspire to EXCEPTIONAL CUSTOMER SERVICE in order to stand out.  Despite its importance to the business’ success, many retailers still get it wrong and have low standards.

Think of Exceptional Customer Service in the same way as DATING.
The attraction, the getting to know each other/ trust building and then the familiarity and comfort and lastly wanting to be around each other all the time!
Excite & seduce your current, new and potential customers to ensure the relationship is established and grows.

In the past; people were looking for a mate to start a family with as per society’s norm and customer service was not a high priority of retailers or customers.  Now the expectations are vastly different; people are looking for a partner who satisfies a long list of needs and customers are demanding exceptional customer service.  Customers and daters are now looking for ‘The Total Package’.

Let’s look at the vital elements of exceptional customer service in comparison with dating:

  • You want to attract your customer at first glance, you must put effort into your appearance and not just for the first meeting or date, you must always look your best
  • You must be honest, polite and respectful, ALWAYS
  • Make sure you have enough in common, otherwise your objectives will not be met and you will be wasting each others’ time
  • Deliver what you promise and don’t promise what you can’t deliver!
  • Be realistic,  don’t try and turn them into something they are not
  • Use the approach and ‘language’ that suits the subject, you need to be adaptable
  • Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers
  • Learn all you can about them and use this in your communication with them, to make your interaction with them relevant
  • Once you have identified their current needs, anticipate their future needs
  • Use humour and creativity to build and maintain the relationship
  • When you spend time together focus on them, don’t look over their shoulder at what else is happening
  • Constantly communicate and keep up to date with each other, don’t lose touch
  • Accept constructive criticism as a way of making the relationship stronger and maybe changing some of your bad habits!
  • Thank them every chance you get – show them they are valued
  • Recognise that sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war.
    There will be times when you have to apologise to a valued customer, even when you know you are right, for the long term on-going relationship.
  • Encourage them to introduce you to their friends!
  • Surprise them with your thoughtfulness
  • As we know that if any of these things are not genuine and maintained the relationship will not last and you have to do it over and over again, till you get it right!!

When you achieve this level of Exceptional Customer Service, your customer will shop without resistance.  When you suggest an add-on product, they will see this as a valuable suggestion that will help them not a pushy sales person trying to make money.  This is where you want to be to achieve profitable sales.

I used to manage the Manchester Department at Grace Bros.  We had our regular customers and my staff and I made it our business to remember what they had bought or what they liked.  If new stock came in that we thought they would like or a pattern they bought was going to be marked-down, we would call them (no email or sms then!) before it was put on the floor or the sale started.  We made them feel important/special and offered them value.  Over 50% of these conversations turned into a sale and over 50% of the sales resulted in other items being added to the purchase.

You want customers to become addicted to your great customer service and come back for more.  Each time they come back they reaffirm their decision to come into your store and feel better than the last time.  This repeat business is more profitable than the first sale.

Acquiring new customers is expensive.  The cost of the first sale is more than double the cost of a returning customer.  To ensure you have a profitable business you need to maintain a high rate of returning/repeat business.

Only 60% of satisfied customers do business with you again.  So you really need to be aiming at 100% satisfaction to ensure profitable repeat business.

Exceptional Customer Service is one aspect that needs to be maintained and innovated continually to ensure customers do not go elsewhere.  It is important to ensure that this is ongoing and evolving to encourage interest.  Remember, there is a fine line, do not get too familiar so as to make your customer uncomfortable..

Develop a strategy for potential, new and regular customers.  You need to do different things to entice and retain each type.  If your strategy and systems have been developed properly, this will happen automatically without effort.  We work with clients to analyse the business and develop a system and program to ensure the best results.

6 Comments

  1. Robin Dickinson
    September 23, 2009 at 11:36 am

    That's a generous post, Nancy. Your 'exceptiona'l experience really adds value.

    The areas that have been really challenging for my clients over the years have been:

    ISSUES AROUND IMPLEMENTING EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE

    a) Defining and measuring basic customer service i.e. a minimum standard for all customers;

    b) Defining and measuring exceptional customer service i.e. a service standard that is remarkable, but practical i.e. one that can be consistently delivered by a variety of staff at off and on-peak times;

    c) Developing systems of service training that account for higher levels of retail staff churn, especially with younger (cheaper) staff e.g. archetypal Gen Y ;)

    These are obviously separate topics, but I raise them because customers so often have honorable and enthusiastic intentions about delivering exceptional service, but lose track somewhere between the vision statement and the customer transaction.

    Great to connect up,

    Robin

  2. Nancy Georges
    September 23, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    thanks Robin :-)
    very valid - the execution and maintanance are what will let great intention down every time!
    stay tuned for another article..
    I post my articles here too - new site will allow me to separate blogs and articles.
    thanks for the connect!
    cheers
    Nancy

  3. AmateurBlogger
    March 19, 2010 at 6:38 am

    actually your blog is one of those i will bother to revisit. most i saw today are full of useless informations and advertising. thank you for providing some real content to the world :)

  4. March 21, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Thank you so much!! I value your comment!! This is what i am trying to achieve so am so pleased I am on the right track!!

  5. November 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    So so true Nancy and over a year on, it is becoming even more important as Social Media still steams on ahead and we all like to talk about our experiences, good and bad! I spent 15 years in hotels and loved making sure our guests had a truly exceptional experience which made them want to come back, time and time again and choose our hotels over the competitors. We all want an easy life so if we are providing a service, listen, make note and act upon it! The look on returning guests faces when you remember their name, knowing their regular tipple, favourite room or table in the restaurant is so rewarding and is not difficult to achieve. For the past 18 months I have been selling search marketing, a completely different ball game but the basics are still the same. Be polite and respectful, make notes so when it is the right time to buy, they think of you. It has been a HUGE challenge, changing industries however 18 months on, I am enjoying the "dating" game. To see a relationship blossom from a cold call, to an initial meeting and to finally an engagement of our services is the perfect match for me! Cheers, Louise

  6. November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    thanks Louise! It is really such a vital part of any business today! :-)

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