I recently visited a small art gallery. I asked the owner how business has been. “I have been busy but sales are slow. We have a lot of tourists come through and I can have 300 people in a day. We have them sometimes complain that I don’t speak to them but I can only talk to so many people, telling them the exact same thing. I am also competing with cheap prints from online.” There are a number of points made in this but we will look at retails greatest secret weapon- ‘Customer Service’. Customer service is what you can use to differentiate yourself from online sellers, as well as your competitors.
You might say customer service is no secret. I will give you actual examples of how it is still not being used by big business and how your business can use it to win customers.
I have a client with a business they’re about to start. I went to research bank accounts for them. Dressed in business shirt and pants, I went to 4 banks in walking distance of each other in a multicultural suburb (this is relevant). This is the following customer service I was given when asking for information;
– I walked in and was met by a lady dressed in a nice blouse and dress pants.
– She pulled out the relevant brochures and asked me to contact them if I had any questions.
– She was friendly and polite. I said thank you and left.
– I walked in and was promptly met by a lady with a friendly smile dressed in a very professional looking, neat and tidy business outfit, with blouse and scarf.
– “How can I help you today sir?” I told her I wanted some information on their business accounts as I had a client looking to start a business. “If you have the time would you like to come in to my office sir and discuss what your client needs? My name is ‘Jane'”.
– She showed me into a private office with a tidy desk and brochures lining the wall. She had me explain the business, asking what its needs were, while taking bullet point notes. She then took from the wall several brochures, marking the different facilities as she explained how each would suit my clients needs. She placed these in a clean glossy folder to hold them together.
– She then contacted another department by phone who could discuss another facility she was not trained in. On speaker phone, the call took 15 minutes to be answered. During this time the manager made small talk and brought me a glass of water. It finally answered. The manager mentioned to the operator how long we waited.
– I spoke to the customer service person who asked questions and took my email contact to send me the information.
– Returning to the business manager she asked if she could have my details to follow up later how I was going. Leaving with brochures and email to be sent, the manager showed me out with a courteous smile.
– I arrived home to the email as promised. I was called a week later by the business manager asking if I required any additional information or had any questions.
– I walked in and a ticket dispensing machine was my first contact. I took a ticket, sat and watched television until my number displayed 8 minutes later.
– The desk area was separated from the public seating area only by a thin shoulder high petition.
– I spoke with the customer service manager who asked me several questions. She took down the details in a form. Giving me several brochures slipped into an everyday envelope, I would be contacted by their business manager, who was out, to discuss my details further.
– I received a call the next day. He asked me several questions with his only finishing reply “well you have the brochures. If you have any questions call me.”
– I walked upto a lady in an open space customer service area. I was after information for a client who was about to start a business. Her reply was “We can only give you information if you have an ABN. I have some booklets but they are old and we are waiting on the new ones with the up to date information to arrive.”
– Deciding against giving me the booklet, she asked me to wait while she brought over the business manager. The business manager came over wearing an ill fitting knitted button up cardigan that looked faded and stretched. She spoke with her arms folded, pulling the cardigan across herself.
– She also told me she couldn’t give any assistance unless we had an ABN. But she did offer the booklet. The booklet was thick, in grey and white with the words “Terms and Conditions” the most visible words, marking the pages with the possible accounts to be used.
– Still standing in the open area she then asked some more questions on other facilities. She could only give me print offs from their website. I waited as she went looking for each page online to print and give me.
– In leaving, she said she could help more once we had an ABN. Then they could customise a package.
The customer service at each of these banks was very different. I left the 4 banks with first impressions. Each an impression of their customer service my clients would receive as a customer of that bank. I hadn’t even read the brochures for their fees and rates yet and I was already leaning towards a particular bank based on the service I just received.
Which bank do you think I was leaning towards- Bank A, B, C or D?
If you made a choice, remember you were making a choice based on the above service I received. You haven’t seen the fees and rates either. Customer service is incredibly important, leaving an impression greater than price alone.
What Your Business Can Do
Retail has the secret weapon of customer service. Something a website cannot offer. The lady from the art gallery meets 300 people a day. A website owner never meets the potential owner of their product, the client only has the information to read. The website owner never has the opportunity to ask questions to provide personal service. The retailer does.
So ensure customer service is a priority to you and your staff. It might not be that customer that returns for business, but a friend of that customer who has heard about your service!
~ Damien Foley