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UMKC Innovation Center
UMKC Innovation Center
By Kate Hodel
December 01, 2014

You Can’t Spell Customer Service Without “You”

With the holidays bringing increased traffic to retail locations, it's a great chance to practice great customer service. 

3-main-street-parkville-1Most every veteran retailer has at least one story about a customer who, for whatever reason, just couldn’t be satisfied. Rarely mentioned are “average” shoppers—customers who come in, make a purchase, and, hopefully, come back.

Simply assuming the vast majority of your customers are happy is a risky attitude, especially in a world where consumer expectations of quality and value continue to rise, and any negative experiences with a retailer can be instantly shared with the world—including your target market—via the Internet.

And even if you feel you’re doing a lot to ensure good customer service, you may well not be doing enough. If customers learn of a competitor offering a better experience—for the same price or even higher—they’ll likely have few qualms about leaving your small business behind.

The good news is that optimizing the customer service experience really isn’t that difficult or expensive. But it has to start at the top.

“Everyone involved in the business must understand that the customer is ‘King,’” observes SCORE Small Business Mentor Jerry Glenn, a former building materials industry executive. “Lead by example to show employees that your business—and their livelihood—depends on satisfied customers.”

So, imagine yourself in the role of that “King.” Think about how you’ve been treated when you were on the other end of the retail transaction—what made you want to come back, and recommend the store to others? Most likely, it was a helpful, courteous salesperson; a clean, well-organized store layout; and ready assistance when you had a question or a problem. 

You may have also met store owners may made a reasonable effort to get to know you and what your needs are, then followed up on your next visit. Or, you may have been able to return or exchange an item with no hassles at all.

Make sure the qualities that made a difference are adapted and fully ingrained in your retail operations. Note that you’ll have greater success enlisting your employees in this effort if they too feel wanted and respected. As they likely interact with customers more often than you, it’s critical they feel motivated to represent you and what your business stands for in the best way possible.

Also be willing to learn and implement new things, whether they’re your own ideas or enhancements to see at other stores, particularly those with similar products and services, and customer demographics. Don’t simply copy what somebody else does; think about the how’s and why’s, and whether it or a variation would fit with your business.

Finally, you can gauge how customers feel by simply asking them, whether in person or via a follow-up survey. Unless you already regularly engage with customers (i.e., e-newsletters, sales flyers), ask their permission before sending anything. Respect for customers’ time away from your store is just as important as the respect you give them when they stop by to shop.

This post comes from the national SCORE office. For local assistance, contact Kansas City SCORE.

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