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Is Customer Service just 'Lip Service'?

March 8, 2011
I used to be the training manager for a regional discount retailer.  All training programs were in some way aligned with providing the best possible service for our customers. We definitely TALKED a lot about customer service. I like to think that it made a difference for my company and that, during my tenure, the employees were focused on pleasing every customer that walked in the door. But it begs the question - are companies just playing lip service to customer service?I have been outside of the retail industry now for a number of years, but I still think about what makes a positive retail experience every time I walk into my local retail store. I am finding that many retailers spend a lot of money on training their expectations for customer service, but it’s hard to see it.  Personally, I don’t have as many positive retail experiences as I used to. I miss the days of being able to count on an employee being able to help me when I need it. What can we do to bring back service that gives a competitive advantage?

Below are five ways that retail stores can ensure that they really provide the service that customers want:
  1. Hire the Right Resources. Help. How often do you go in to a large big box retailer, not sure where to find what you need?  It happens to me more often than I want to admit…and so often there is nary a retail associate to be found.  If there is someone, it’s hit or miss that they will actually go out of their way to offer you assistance no matter how befuddled you look.
  2. Give Employees Knowledge.  The economy has caused cuts in coverage, and many retailers are running lean and mean.  But whatever happened to product knowledge?  Someone who actually knows enough about a particular product to help you with your decision making?  Seriously – what do you actually need to have in order to install your own faucet?
  3. Provide Friendly Staff.  I must admit, this one is perplexing.  Have you ever had someone act as if you are interrupting their work day and you are nothing but a bother?  Ouch.
  4. Be Customer-Oriented. Are your associates willing to stop what they are doing to assist your customers, or do they just point you in the general direction of what you are looking for
  5. Provide Value. Go the extra mile. Don’t just answer the customer’s question or point the customer in the right direction – ask the additional question. Asking questions as to why a customer is making a particular purchase can lead to that value–added discussion, increasing revenue and customer satisfaction.  You are not being pushy by asking questions!  You never know how that conversation will help the customer.
We all remember when we’ve received good service and are much more likely to return to that store. Likewise, we remember poor service and are much less likely to return there as well. If I visited a store that embodied these five characteristics, I would shout it from the rooftops. Let’s stop the lip service and start giving real service!

Carolyn Cosco