Customer service gets a lot of lip service. It also gets customers.
There’s no excuse for poor customer service, and employers need to understand the devastating long term effects of hiring less than wonderful people to deal with their clients.
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you are in (unless it’s automobile repossession); your clients are your bread and butter. Treat them well and they will return, even if they don’t always get exactly what they want. Treat them poorly, even once, and you may never see them again.
Your clients have choices. Unless you are the only gas station or coffee shop in town, chances are your customers can find another venue willing to take their business within a few blocks. They may even be willing to pay more money for good service.
Does Starbucks have the best coffee in the world? Not necessarily. But they do have great product branding, high visibility, a pleasant atmosphere and, with very few exceptions, excellent, friendly customer service.
One of the first things you will see when you enter Starbucks is a smiling employee. They make eye contact with you. They are cheerful, helpful, and prompt to serve you. If you have an experience to the contrary, by all means, let the management staff know about it. Starbucks has built their empire on the consistency of a pleasant experience for their customers.
Trader Joe’s is another example of excellent products combined with exemplary customer service. They have the winning customer combination; great stuff, great prices, and great service.
We all want to know that our business is important to the people we give it to, and it’s not that difficult to convey appreciation and respect. It is something that needs to be a part of an employees’ training, along with running the cash register and filing paperwork. In fact, it might be wise to make it the first thing you teach employees; everything else can be learned by route.
Most of us know both sides of the customer/service relationship, and the key word here is relationship. We are constantly building long and short term relationships with customers, suppliers, service providers, bankers, accountants, waiters and receptionists. The better those relationships are, the more often their outcome is pleasant and successful.
Very few people are indifferent to the way they are treated. We all have feelings, no matter what station in life we occupy. Make people feel good, and they will usually return the kindness in whatever capacity they can.
Just this evening I had a pivotal experience at a local restaurant. In this case, local is relative; there isn’t another place to eat within thirty miles in any direction, so this establishment should have fairly consistent business from the people who live nearby.
I’ve met the owner, and can say only wonderful things about him. I’ve eaten there before, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I expected to have the same experience this evening.
It’s a casual place; the kind of atmosphere where you might expect someone to go behind the bar and refill their own coffee cup if the waiter was busy. This evening, the place happened to be empty when I arrived; a little bit early for the dinner crowd, I assumed.
I was greeted by a gentleman who hardly turned around when I entered. He handed me a menu over the back of his head without leaving his chair in front of the television. We barely made eye contact.
He asked me what I wanted to drink. I ordered coffee. He said he’d make a fresh pot, but before he did, he served me what had been on the burner since noon or earlier. I smelled the cup of black lacquer and decided to wait for the fresh brewed batch, which was delicious…but by now my hopes of a consistently pleasant experience had been greatly diminished.
The place was deserted, and it should have been easy to find a seat, but most of the desirable ones still had dirty dishes on the tables. The fireplace, one of the lovely attractions of the restaurant, had not been tended.
Another customer came a few moments later with his daughters. He too wanted to sit by the fire, so he went outside, found the woodpile, and rekindled the dying embers. There was no wood inside, and the employee made no effort to fetch any. The customer tended the fire for the duration of his stay, which was brief, while our waiter watched the television that, I am certain, was intended for customer enjoyment.
While my food was served promptly and the portion was generous, it wasn’t just the food I had come for. It was the atmosphere and the experience I had looked forward to. Casual dining or not, when I’m finished eating and push my plate to the other side of the table, I expect someone, sooner or later, to retrieve it. That never happened, nor was the table of the other customer cleared. Eventually I moved my own empty plate to the other dirty table.
I might be in blue jeans, and I might be friendly and polite no matter the circumstances, but that doesn’t mean I am immune to the blatant lack of concern for my expectations.
Perhaps most ironic is that I had driven there with the intention of borrowing a menu, so I could write a review for the local newspapers extolling the beauty of the location, the quality of the food and the warm, friendly atmosphere. Now I cannot, in good conscience, do such a thing. What would I say in my review? It’s a great place, but don’t go on a Tuesday?
Very few businesses can afford to treat their customers poorly or unevenly. If you aren’t getting customer referrals and repeat clients, there’s a reason, and it might not have anything to do with the quality of your product.
Take a good look at how your customers are being treated…not just the ones with expensive shoes and designer handbags, either. Creating customer loyalty is the responsibility of your business. Your clients will be happy to help you do it, but it is the business and its employees who need to take the first step in building these beneficial, long-term relationships.