It was a Friday afternoon in Alberta. I’d met with some clients and had time for a walk. I decided to head to the strip mall near where I was staying.
My first stop was the Peavey Mart hardware store, since I’d never visited one before and it looked interesting.
I entered the store and walked past three staff who were talking among themselves, walked around the store browsing the products and then out. No one gave me eye contact, nodded or checked to see what I might be looking for. I was surprised because the products in the store gave me the impression of a hometown country store, but the service was definitely not country!
I walked to the next store in the strip mall, PetSmart. I walked in and around again without any offer of help, acknowledgement or customer service.
Michaels is a 10,000-square-foot craft store with absolutely no customer service on a Friday afternoon.
Winners had lots of people in the store but no one seemed to be helping customers and definitely no one offered to help me in what I might be looking for.
Surely Save-On-Foods would offer good service. I went in and walked through their isles again without any acknowledgement.
Crazily, I had just spent 30 minutes in five decent-sized retailers and no one even smiled or said “Hello” to me!
What’s going on? Is customer service dead? Or does this size of business not really care about its customers any more?
It used to be the rule that when a customer walked into a retail establishment, they were greeted within the first 15 seconds. Even the big stores would have some sort of greeter near the doors where they would say hello. Shoppers Drug Mart still seems to have a policy of doing this, as do many small retailers.
In our stores, we made a point of trying to greet every person who came through the doors. And then our intention was to check in on them several times during their visit to see if they were finding what they were looking for. Not only did this seem to increase sales but it really helped build relationships with visitors and turn them into customers.
So why is it that when I go into most stores, the only time I feel I’m important or can have human interaction is when I buy something and take it to a till?
My stores had higher than average sales per square foot but my assumption was that most people are lonely. In fact, I would swear a certain percentage of the population goes shopping because they’re lonely. They’re getting out of the house not so much to do a chore as to talk to another person.
When we take the time to engage customers, to really be interested in them, to be curious and find out what they’re looking for and what’s important to them, we can actually make a difference in their day and even their lives. How much work does it take for us to smile at the people we come in contact with, to share a hello, or even a touch on their shoulders or elbows?
Being in customer service and business shouldn’t just be about the sales. The funny thing is that when we take the time to engage with our customers and be sincere and interested, the dollars roll in. Customers who are engaged want to spend more time in the business where they’re treated well. They come back more frequently and they spend more money. They’re more loyal and they refer our business to others.
So how do we establish better customer service in our businesses?
First, we need to establish that our customers really are important to us and not just offer lip service. This means we need to ensure the right level of staffing to be able to greet and talk to customers. We need to instil in our employees the value of treating customers respectfully. This is important to the business. And deepening relationships with customers makes our employees’ jobs more gratifying, which is a bonus in this digital age where even face time is not face to face.
Second, we need to keep our employees accountable for greeting every customer who comes into our business.
Third, and perhaps most important, we need to lead by example. How are you as a leader exemplifying the importance of customer service?
I probably would have died of loneliness if I was reaching out for human contact that Friday in Alberta. As far as I’m concerned, customer service is dead in certain types of businesses.
What do you think?
Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award winning business coach and a partner in the firm Pivotleader Inc. Comments on business at this time? Email firstname.lastname@example.org