While all 7 Timeless Principles are critical, Customer Service may be the one that is the most fundamental requirement for a retailer’s longevity. Previously, I had written that “for retailers who struggle, customer service is almost always below par.” Think about the recent closures: JCPenney, Sears, Payless Shoes, whichever chain comes to your mind first. Did they have outstanding customer service? Not an individual incident you can recall from the past. But Every. Single. Day.
Because that is what it means to have a foundation built on Customer Service. When a retailer focuses on Customer Service, it means that every single encounter is helpful. Heck, it means that entering the store or calling the support center means you WILL have an encounter with a real human being who is competent and caring. Two “C’s” that are hard to come by in the high employee turnover world of retail.
How to Build Customer Service Strength?
- Hire people who enjoy the role of serving customers. They are friendly, optimistic, easy communicators. They “hire for attitude, train for skills.” Too many retailers believe they have to fill roles with a warm body. In rural communities where the labor pool is small, this is especially constraining. But a retailer can never train someone to be authentically friendly. Whether in a call center or a physical store, the right hires solve a lot of future problems.
- Train Customer Service FIRST. New employees shadow experienced team members to learn how to engage with customers. They learn the importance of helping customers, making small talk and understanding how to help customers make a purchase selection. But I would reckon that 90% of retailers spend the first days training how to receive an order, ring up a transaction, merchandise shelves or open a help ticket. Those “tasks” become the focus of new hires and following the process steps are almost always emphasized over learning how to help customers.
- Coach Customer Service. Managers who know that outstanding customer service leads to loyalty, watch their team members engage with customers. They encourage spending time with customers and setting merchandising tasks aside. They expect customers to be greeted and employees to be friendly. When they are not, they take immediate corrective action. Timid managers who allow poor customer service to slide are creating an environment that will slowly kill the store’s momentum.
Look, there are retailers who will say that low prices or their beautifully curated assortment is their differentiator in the marketplace. We all know retailers who have prioritized Expensive marketing campaigns or real estate investments over training and scheduling enough hours to allow their team members to provide excellent customer service. Not sure who they are? Try JCPenney, Sears, Payless Shoes…
When it comes to Customer Service, falling below customer expectations means that sales will slide.