Customer Service Article
Getting Back to Basics: A Customer Service Tale
By: Joy Fisher-Sykes
One hot summer day my
daughter and I ventured to our local craft store with one mission in mind –
purchase velvet covered coloring panels called fuzzy boards. Little did we know
this simple trip would turn into such an adventure.
The store advertised the
boards on sale and offered a 40% discount coupon. My daughter excitedly
selected two boards however I noticed different manufacturers produced them, so
I asked her to select an extra board just in case both were not on sale. She
did, and we proceeded to the cashier. With a half hour until closing, we
eagerly approached the only open register, behind which stood two young women.
This is when the adventure began, and things took a turn for the worse.
We saw two store clerks at
the check out. Seated on the floor was one associate who faced the cashier line
and the other, the cashier, did not which made it impossible for her to be aware
of approaching customers. When she saw us, the associate on the floor did cease
her end of the conversation and told the cashier she had customers.
Unfortunately, the cashier ignored this information because it took her a minute
before she turned and greeted us with “Oh, I'm sorry.” I’m not sure exactly what
she apologized for because she then proceeded to continue her conversation.
I told the cashier we needed
to know if all of the items were on sale. Although she acknowledged the
request, she still continued talking to the other associate and proceeded to
scan all of the items for purchase. When I pointed out her error her response
was “Oh, okay, sorry,” and once again she resumed her conversation. She clearly
was not present – her mind was engaged and committed elsewhere. Her actions
communicated her conversation was far more important than this sale.
The cashier did one final
thing that was the final straw. After the correct total was tallied, my
daughter handed the cashier a 40% off store coupon. The cashier took it and
immediately threw the coupon away, turned to us with a smile and told us our
total. At this point, I thought I was in the twilight zone or on some really
bad reality show.
When I asked why the coupon
was thrown away, she explained the coupon was only valid on regularly priced
items. After a very deep breath, I proceeded to share a few ideas. First, I
stated when she threw the coupon away, we were unclear why. I explained an
explanation of her actions would have avoided any misunderstandings or ill
will. She apologized once again, and said she understood and agreed. Second, I
stated her inattentiveness during the transaction was inappropriate and did not
make us feel like the valued customers we are. Finally, I said during business
hours it is best to remain focused on the most important component to retail
success, customers. Personal conversations are best left for discussion after
hours. Her associate must have agreed, too, because at this point she turned
and walked way.
This shopping excursion caused me to pause and
think all service provider must always exhibit certain basic behaviors -
customer service basics. Here are a few:
Basic Rule #1
– Acknowledge Customer’s
How many times have you walked in a store and you
weren’t acknowledged? How did you feel? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve
witnessed service providers who take personal phone calls (or worse answer their
cell), speak to other co-workers regarding non-urgent matters, or who simply
walk away without explanation. Basic customer service requires an
acknowledgement as soon a customer enters your establishment – whether you will
be ready to provide service in one minute or twenty. An acknowledgement says
“I’m glad to see you and value your business. We will help you as soon as
possible. Thank you for your patience.” A little appreciation goes a long way,
especially if at the time you find yourself short handed. As soon as you see
customers…acknowledge them. Although this sounds obvious, it simply just isn’t
practiced as it should.
Basic Rule #2 – Be Present and Listen
When assisting customers, it is important to
always be “present.” Being present required you to be in the moment ready to
provide your customer with your full, undivided attention from start to finish.
It is imperative customer’s always feel important and the center of attention.
To accomplish this you must remain fully focused.
Active listening is a
critical component of any customer interaction. This is a big difference
between hearing and listening. Hearing is the perception of sound. Active
listening requires us to hear, interpret, and then take action. Active
listening empowers us to consistently provide our customers exactly what they
Basic Rule #3 – Explain Your Plan
Customers need to know and want to understand the
reason for your plan of action. Many times I have returned an item only to have
the clerk shove a form and pen in front of me without so much as a please or
explanation. As if I should be know what they want from me. Always clearly
explain each step and the reason for your request.
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Customer Service Resources
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