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Keep the customer service culture under control

In today’s business environment, it’s more important than ever to make customer-focused selling a top priority.

In today’s business environment, it’s more important than ever to make customer-focused selling a top priority.

Outstanding customer service has long been a hallmark of specialty retailers and given a competitive advantage so this vision may be ingrained in your thinking, but have you clearly communicated the importance to your entire staff? Your best customers are repeat customers and the treatment they receive on any visit will likely determine whether and how often they return.

Hire a mystery shopper

Do you have any idea how your employees answer the phone or greet someone who walks in the door when you’re not within ear shot?

A mystery shopper, who will visit your store in the guise of a customer, may prove enlightening. This professional service provides trained shoppers to evaluate their experience with your employees. Do they listen to the customer and respond to individual needs? Are they knowledgeable, enthusiastic, helpful and friendly? As a gas utility employee, I made many such visits to see how effectively dealer sales people were in promoting gas appliances. Often the poor performances were astonishing, since the gas company believed it had thoroughly educated these sales people. Our reports let dealers know what additional training was needed. At the same time, it also was rewarding to identify sales superstars for deserved recognition.

“One key to creating a strong brand in your business is to understand that your employees are your brand,” Anna Lieber said in New York Enterprise Report.

If store traffic is a little slow right now, take time to reinforce your service vision for your staff. Remind them that they are what customers will remember about a visit to your store and employees, from the person who answers the phone to the service person called out to repair an improperly working grill, need to be brand ambassadors. Consistency throughout your organization is essential to make a positive and lasting impression.

Rude is unacceptable

I belong to an organization of women business owners who all pride themselves on delivering exceptional customer service and believe it is what distinguishes their companies. Recently we discussed some of the incredible, unthinkable customer service we’d been experiencing ourselves.

We concluded that increasingly the attitudes of many employees have deteriorated to unacceptable levels. Our distressing episodes ranged from dealing with public utilities to government departments, medical facilities, a highly regarded rental car company and both national chain retailers and smaller local businesses. Bad manners knew no bounds.

We’d encountered unconscionable rudeness, including being yelled at and hung up on during phone conversations, being told we must be stupid if we didn’t see things their way and being barked at by a receptionist when someone wanted to ask her a question. She very haughtily told the person to “go sit down and I’ll let you know when I am ready for questions.” As business owners, we were appalled that companies for whom we were customers could have such insolent employees. We wondered if owners and managers were aware of the negative effect this was having on their businesses – and if they weren’t, why not?

How do you want your employees to treat your customers when they come in to buy a barbecue grill or accessories? Simple things like smiling, friendly greetings, a helpful attitude and enthusiasm go a long way toward establishing a good relationship right off the bat. Asking questions that reveal the prospect’s wants, expectations, desires and needs, then really listening to their answers, will always pay off. Every customer should have undivided attention, if you want to convey that they are important to you.

Recognize positive behavior

Business owners periodically get a phone call, letter or e-mail from a customer who was especially pleased with the service someone in their store provided. Giving recognition and expressing appreciation to that person at a staff meeting shows that you highly value their outstanding service and know that it is good for business. This encourages other employees to follow suit.

If a customer or prospect is vacillating between purchasing from your store or one of your competitors, exceptional service can be the tie breaker. It’s worth considerable effort to ensure everyone in your organization buys into your vision that outstanding service must be a top priority.

Reward customers, too

Customers always like to know you value their business so why not demonstrate it actively? For instance, offer a new grill buyer a discount on a future purchase for referring someone who becomes a customer. You solidify your relationship with the original customer and gain a new one you may never have reached otherwise.

Or, when making a substantial sale – such as a premium stainless steel grill or modular units for an outdoor kitchen – take a tip from people who sell cars. Send a follow-up note to the customer thanking them for their purchase and perhaps even offering them something like a free propane tank refill next time their supply is low. Or maybe you offer 25% off on a fire pit or outdoor heater to enhance their outdoor eating and entertaining area. This supports the fact that you’re selling the barbecue experience, enjoying one’s backyard with family and friends, and not just promoting a product. All of which should result in a happy customer who’ll be back for a repeat visit.

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