Anne M. Obarski

Article Summary:

How you can ensure your level of customer appreciation remains high to avoid losing customers through poor service.

Customer Appreciation: How To Avoid Losing Customers Through Poor Service

Hey, I'm the customer!  Hey, I'm a retailer!  Hey, we are one in the same!  We all have what I call, two sides.  We go into work and we are a retailer who has to deal with all types of customers day in and day out, and let's say that today one of them just stepped on our last nerve and we lashed out at them. Then on our way home from work, we stopped to pick up milk and bread and we are now the customer.  Mike, the sales associate has had a bad day and is very grumpy with us.  In our mind we are thinking, "Well, I would never treat a customer that way".....and then our mind goes back to the same way we treated one of our customers earlier in the day!

It really does come down to the Golden Rule of treating people the way we would like to be treated.  In our society, maybe it's not Gold or Platinum....maybe it's The Titanium Rule, in every thing you do in business, as humanly possible, make sure that the customer feels appreciated!

One of my favorite quotes from the late, Peter Drucker is, "No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings."

Here are 3 tips for "average human being leaders" to avoid losing customers:

Your paycheck is here!
 As abrupt as this may sound it is the simple truth; without your customer, you don't have a job.  I don't know many people who are in business because it is fun and fulfilling and who really don't ever expect to be paid.  We are those average human beings that Drucker talked about, who have house payments and car payments and groceries to buy and kids to feed and our customers supply that.  Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, once said that your customer buys your cars, your house and sends you on vacation, and if you upset him, he'll dismiss you!  The term, "dismiss you", conjures thoughts of a king saying, "Off with his head"! Our customers can and will dismiss us if we do not treat them as if they are the most important part of our business.

A recent study conducted by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation and American Express, found that 85 percent of consumers shop more often and spend more at retailers that offer higher levels of customer service. Eighty-two percent said they are likely to recommend retailers with superior customer service to friends and family. 

So, teach your employees to remind themselves that each time someone walks through the door or calls on the phone, that it is their paycheck on the other end.  Statistics show that customers will make a decision of whether or not to do business with you just based on how the phone is answered.  So often business owners work hard on how to physically greet a customer but never develop a procedure on how to properly answer the phone.

I have been in many stores where the phone just rings and rings and no one ever answers it, or if they do, they ask the phone caller to wait and they put the phone down so that the caller can hear the entire transaction over the phone.  Usually when the employee gets around to picking the phone back up the caller has already hung up.  The customer just "dismissed" you!  Ouch, their goes the grocery money!

Don't assume!
It's all in your attitude!  How many times have sales people made the assumption that the customer; is just browsing, they are not going to buy, they are too picky, they don't dress like they could afford to shop here or they are just trying to waste my time? 

It really is all about customer service with "attitude".  An attitude that says, I want to build a relationship with you so that you know we are always here to serve you, answer your questions and make your shopping experience pleasant one, even if you don't buy! 

Don't buy?  Yes!  Be careful not to "assume" that because they didn't buy today, that they won't come back tomorrow, or a month from now or six months from now.

For example, I am somewhat "shopping" for a new car.  It is not a favorite type of shopping trip for me.

You see, I would much rather look at three cars and pick the prettiest color and the one that has the "fairest" price and be done with it.  This haggling thing that my husband does makes me nuts.  He says that the car dealers expect you to do that!  Personally I hate it.

But my new friend, Jim, is one of the nicest car dealers I have ever met.  I have been there twice and have spent hours driving different cars and talking about children, golf games and local restaurants.  I know a lot about him and he knows a lot about me.  No matter how much haggling that my husband feels needs to be done, we will buy a car from Jim.  I told Jim that.  I told him it might not be this week or that car or even next month, but we will buy a car from him.  He knows it, and I am sure he has seen many "husband/wife" teams playing this same game.  He smiles and there is a twinkle in his eye that he knows, we'll be back and when we are ready, he won't "sell" us a car, we will choose to "own" one.  It is all about the quiet attitude Jim has of not assuming anything but being there to serve us when we are ready.

Never, ever, assume anything about your customer, except that they can shop somewhere else! 

Courtesy Counts!
My mystery shoppers over the years have provided me with the following statistic; 95% of customers leave a business because of inattentive, impolite employees.   How many times have you been a "lost" customer?  How many times have you been made to feel "invisible"?  How many times have you been made to feel like you are "keeping" an employee from doing their "real job"?  It is a horrible feeling and one that I seem to experience far too often.

There are some companies who are trying to reduce that statistic. Bigresearch's recent polling of more than 8,600 consumers showed that Nordstrom ranked first for delivering service to shoppers and also making consumers' top 10 list were Coldwater Creek, Marshall Field's, Kohl's, Boscov's, Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), JC Penney, Lane Bryant, Best Buy and Eddie Bauer.  They may not always be perfect but they work very hard at maintaining that "common courtesy" that keeps customers coming back.
In order to maintain the level of great customer service you offer, I believe the leadership of any successful company has to reflect it from the top down.  I always told my people that I would never expect them to do anything that I wouldn't be willing to do myself.  How many times have we seen management have meetings and tout the value of customer service and then be heard muttering about the inept employees or ridiculous requests of customers. 

How satisfied are your employees?  There is a new survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting that says there is a growing "satisfaction gap" between veteran workers and the newer colleagues.  It was interesting that out of the workers who had been hired in the last two years, 75% agree that their employer treats them with dignity and respect.  Those who have been on the job 15 years or more, only 53 % agreed, and interestingly,  only 50% believed that their bosses cared about the employee's well-being.

What the research has shown is that the longer-tenured employees no longer feel that their longevity and tenure are valued by the places where they work.  Loyalty and longevity in the workplace is not much different than loyalty and longevity within your customer base. 

We get excited when we get a new job and we work really hard at it.  Then things get to be a routine and we lose some of our excitement.  When the new customer comes in we are excited and do what ever we can to make them feel special, new customer discounts, special incentives, and then when they have become a "regular" we forget about them.

This reminds me of the song from the sixties called, "Both Sides Now". I believe we need to value both sides of the relationship, from the customer's perspective and from the business owner's perspective, again, as humanly as possible.  Common courtesy is so basic and obviously so needed within the workplace as well as in our day to day lives.

By the way, Jim just "happened" to come by the house yesterday for a car for us to test drive....we bought that car last night, from Jim.

Anne M. Obarski is "The Eye on Performance!" As a professional speaker and trainer, Anne helps companies focus on the profit building service strategies that will keep their customers coming back. Anne presents nationwide keynotes, break-out sessions and customized training in the area of customer service. She has written "Surprising Secrets of Mystery Shoppers" and "Real World Customer Service Strategies That Work". For more information visit her website at www.merchandise concepts.com.

Read all advice by Anne M. Obarski; Find more Customer Loyalty experts

More advice on Customer Loyalty
» Building Customer Loyalty by Caring About Employees
» Building Customer Loyalty through Positive Experiences
» all Customer Loyalty articles