Customer Service Lessons

June 2005

On Memorial Day, I was driving through our neighborhood when a child ran into the street to wave me down. I pulled over to the little lemonade stand that a young entrepreneur and a half-dozen of his friends were running. The waver (a.k.a. marketing department) asked for my business, and explained the product being promoted (Gatorade.whatever happened to fresh-squeezed lemonade?). I agreed to buy a cup for the asking price of 25 cents. Next, the customer service department gave me a choice about how many ice cubes I wanted (three), and joked with me (“You want sand with that?”). Then, after an attempt to up-sell me (“How about two cups, and a cookie, too?”), I was presented with my cup of Gatorade; I never even left my car. The young entrepreneurs then asked for referrals (“Tell everybody to come buy something!”). I paid them and added a generous tip for their personalized and spirited service.

Lately I’ve been thinking about customer service, as I find myself in a lot of different stores during our home-building process. Since we (my beau and I) are on a tight time-frame now that construction has begun, we are very motivated customers. We make buying decisions after determining our needs, gathering product information, and checking prices. The formula for success seems so simple: willing and qualified buyer plus desired product plus good customer service. Alas, it is the absence of that last key ingredient that sometimes causes us to take our business elsewhere.

Our business goes to the salesman who takes the time to understand our needs, and give us choices that fit our budget and tastes. We appreciate the salesperson that opens up possibilities and offers ideas we hadn’t thought of before, pointing out features and benefits without pressure to buy. We seek out the saleswoman who is most knowledgeable about the product lines, or at least is willing to research our questions if she doesn’t know the answer. Having a sense of humor helps; buying is much easier when things aren’t deadly serious (after all, we’re talking floor tiles and sofas, not nuclear arms sales). Reliability and follow-up are important. We are non-plussed by salespeople who lose our business because they fail to send us a quote, neglect to return phone calls, or don’t prepare for a scheduled appointment.

Does your staff know the real meaning and spirit of customer service? Are you confident that your employees treat each customer like gold? Do they have the knowledge, authority, and responsibility to make buying easy for customers? If I can help you in strengthening your customer service delivery, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Sharon Keys Seal

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