You may be wondering, “E.T. Barton is a bookkeeper and a researcher. What the heck could she possibly know about customer service? What qualifies her to teach a lesson like this one? She’s ‘Back Office’ – NOT Retail.”
Picture by thadz
To be quite honest…I rock at customer service. I mean, I seriously kick butt. But that is not actually what qualifies me as a customer service expert. What qualifies me is the fact that one of my very first jobs – back when I was in high school – was as a cashier at Carls Jr. From there, I moved onto Cocos, Sears, JCPenneys, and eventually T.K. Maxx in Ireland. (Yes, the T.K. is correct). All of those companies had customer service training programs and many of them had “Secret Shoppers” to verify that service was up to company standards. While at Carls Jr AND Sears, I happened to be hit by a “Secret Shopper” on at least five occasions and…as you can probably guess…I kicked butt. I literally got 93% my first secret shop, and then 100% after that. I got 100% on a Sunday Secret Shop at Sears (our busiest day of the week at the time) where I sold shoes on commission (and I happened to be the highest paid commission associate in my department). I love the customer service experience, and quite frankly, it is one of the things I miss most by being a back office associate and an independent business owner…you just don’t get to serve the same type of customer service.
A few years after working at T.K. Maxx, and intrigued by the Secret Shopping Experience, I became a Secret Shopper. For approximately two years, I learned the Exact Scripts that fast food chains, restaurants, colleges, and even banks teach their employees in order to ensure the perfect customer service experience for their clientele – and to make sure that sales happened. Big Businesses create these intense customer service training programs for one reason and one reason only:
Customer Service = Sales.
Bad Customer Service = Bad Sales.
Excellent Customer Service = Sales Again and Again and Again as Customers Return For More.
Good customer service is like being a shepherd with a flock of sheep…the Customer Service Rep must lead the customers to their ideal product(s) like a shepherd leading sheep to water.
Today, I’m going to share the basics that “Big Businesses” are using to create the ultimate customer service retail experience. The following 10 Steps helps a Company’s Sales Person create a relationship with a customer from the moment they step in the door to the moment they leave. That relationship will encourage sales more than anything else the store will have to offer – even more than the product itself. (In fact, read this funny story about the most interesting customer service experience I ever received in order to get a better understanding of this concept entitled, How About Some Illegal Drugs With That Purchase?)
If you read nothing else on this website, bookmark this article. You’d be amazed when you realize how employees should be treating customers (like you) and how they actually treat customers. Once you know how Employees at Big Businesses are supposed to behave, you’ll want Excellent Customer Service everywhere you go.
To make things a bit simpler, I’m going to call Customer Service Reps “CSRs” from here on out.
The “Big Business” Basics of Customer Service:
The Meet and Greet: In every customer service experience I’ve ever encountered, there is always a “Meet and Greet” time period that is mandated by big companies. For retail departments like Sears and JCPenneys, a CSR is supposed to greet a customer within THREE MINUTES of strolling into a department. At fast food drive-ins, it is within ONE MINUTE. At banks, it’s supposed to be as soon as that door opens, or the customer gets into line. It is always a good idea to greet a customer ASAP, even if the CSR is busy with another customer. The greeting could be as simple as “deliberate eye contact” and a nod, but it is better to verbally speak by saying something like, “Hello – my name is…I’m with someone right now, but I will be with you in just a moment.” (Especially a good idea if the CSR is on the phone.) This type of greeting is often enough to placate even the most demanding of customers. If you have a grouchy old lady with a bad hip and arthritis demanding service now, she will often be more than happy to wait as long as she knows when she will be served.
The Inquiry: After eye contact and/or a verbal greeting, a CSR needs to follow up with the basic inquiry: “How may I help you today?” If this question is never asked and a customer is left alone to “find” what they are looking for, they will most likely NOT find it, and they will leave frustrated. Customers always want “easy shopping” and if a CSR does not offer to make their experience “easy”, they’re out of there. Give them the opportunity to tell you what they need by simply asking.
Deliver the Product – NEVER Leave Them to Their Own Devices: Once the inquiry has been made, it is very important to deliver the product to the customer. Again, the goal is “EASY shopping,” NOT “Good-Luck-With-That Shopping.” That means, if you are in a retail business, the CSR should LEAD the customer over to the product, pick it up and hand it to them. In restaurants, food should be delivered in a timely manner. In the service industry, a person’s word is their bond; a CSR should live up to whatever promises they make to the customers (within reason, of course). After all, nothing frustrates a shopper as much as being told, “It’s on Aisle 5”, but then not being able to find that item amongst the multitude of other items in Aisle 5 – or having a restaurant hostess never come back with a drink order “because they thought the waitress delivered it.” (Am I bitter? Yes.) Customers will often assume “It’s sold out” if they don’t see it (or they have been forgotten in the case of the restaurant), and they may or may not ask for further assistance. By accompanying the customer to a product’s location and/or delivering a product, a CSR has the chance to make sure that sale goes through as it’s supposed to (or “check in the back” if the shelves are empty).
Ask if They Need Further Assistance: More often than not, a shopper is looking for ONE specific item, and they will “browse” after they find their item…BUT, it never hurts to ask. It’s just as common to have a customer ask for something else once their first need is met. By simply saying, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”, the CSR increases the odds of a higher final tally on the receipt, while also really pleasing their customer.
Suggest a Complementary Product: In any business, it is always a good idea to “Suggestive Sell” additional products, especially if the customer says, “I don’t need anything else.” At Carls Jr., we were encouraged to ask, “Would you like fries with that?” for every meal that did not have fries. At the Sears shoe department, we were instructed to bring out “at least three pairs of shoes” that were similar in style to the shoe being asked for. (That way, if the customer did not like the first style / price / fit / etc., they had other options.) In more than 75% of MY Suggestive Selling cases, I sold the additional product as well as the original product (which is why I was the # 1 Shoe Sales Associate). It’s the Suggestive Selling that can really help a company’s bottom line, and make a customer happy. The key, however, is to Give the Customer a Visual Suggestion of a Complementary Product. At Sears, the customer was able to See AND Touch the additional shoes. At Carls Jr, saying “Would you like Fries with that (or cookies, or soda)?” instead of “Would you like anything else with that?” gave the customer a mental image of the product, which led them to imagine the food in “their mind’s eye” (i.e. how it would taste). By giving them that stimulus, whether actual or mental, the CSR stimulates a bigger sale.
Leave Them to Their Own Devices: After a customer has found what they are looking for, the CSR should back off. Give the customer time to “browse” and “let their eye buy” more products. Saying something as simple as – “Okay then…I’ll be right over there if you need anything else. Again, my name is…just give me a holler” – takes the “buy more stuff” pressure off of a customer (which we all know is the goal) and allows them to relax and shop in peace. The easier and more peaceful a shopping experience, the more likely the customer is to return to the store soon. Plus, nobody likes feeling as if “Security” is following them around to make sure they don’t steal something. Backing off shows a customer that they are trusted.
Check Back Periodically: Again, another important aspect of customer service. Checking back within a certain time frame reminds the customer that they are cared about, and that a CSR is at their beck and call should they need it. Think of it like a waitress in a restaurant. How annoying is it to get your steak and fries, but there is no steak sauce or ketchup on the table? Or how about when you’re ready to be “rung up” and the cashier is busy helping someone else. By not checking back periodically, you deliver the message that the CSR got what they wanted from the customer – presumably a sale – and now they’re done with them. So again, checking back reminds the customer that they are important every moment that they are in that store.
Ask For the Sale: It’s amazing how many people never ask for the sale. A commissioned CSR NEVER makes that mistake. They know that if they don’t ask for the sale, the customer will wander off and find someone else to help them, or put the product back and walk out of the store. By simply saying, “Can I ring that up for you?”, a CSR again announces that they are at a customer’s beck and call, and they get the chance to make the sale before the customer talks themselves out of it. In the car industry, car salesmen know that once a customer walks off that lot, they probably won’t see them again (which is why they try so hard to make a great deal before the customer leaves). Ask for the sale and you increase the chance of actually making it.
Suggestive Sell Yet Again: Once a CSR is ringing up a purchase, they have a chance to see what products the customer is buying and suggest complementary products to a different item. It’s that last minute, “Oh yeah, I should get that too while I’m here,” which can really be successful at increasing every sale. That’s why the magazines and candy companies pay so much to be at the cash register – because they KNOW someone will think, “I should get that too,” right before they ring up the sale.
Thank Them For Their Patronage: There is a restaurant I’ve been going to for fifteen years (one of my favorite restaurants of all time), and the manager has always said the same thing in all that time. He says, “See you tomorrow,”…as if I am really coming back tomorrow, and as if he can’t wait to see me. He even said it to me when I was just an obnoxious teenager. I know he says it to everyone, but it still makes me feel important that he takes the time and makes sure he says it to me every time I go there (which is a lot). This is the most important step of making a customer want to come back…common courtesy and the feeling like they matter to that business. Too many CSRs never say, “Thank you. Have a nice Day. I hope I see you again soon.” Instead, they move onto helping the next customer, inadvertently dismissing the customer standing in front of them. My rule of thumb is this: A friendly “Farewell” transfers good feelings from one person to another. Why wouldn’t you want your customer to leave feeling good? No matter what, make sure that customer leaves with a smile, and they will return.
And there you have them. The 10 Rules of Customer Service that the Big Businesses use. If you want your customers to return again and again, you need to implement as many of them as possible. Period.
Now go be a shepherd and lead your customers to their ideal product.