Customer service is often held up as the holy grail of retailing. It is second only to having the products that your customers want in retailing importance (if you don’t have the right products you won’t have the customers and a case can be made that if you have the exceptionally right products you don’t have to worry about customer service as the customer will buy the product regardless of the customer service. But beware when your product is no longer exceptionally right – the customer won’t come back!).
There are several facets to customer service. Today I would like to address the employee/customer relationship at the register.
At its most basic, customer service is actually pretty easy. It is treating your customer the way that you would like to be treated. The problem is that we don’t typically give our front line people the time and flexibility to treat the customer as they should be treated. It is tough to be relaxed and polite when there are two people who are in a hurry behind the current customer, a vendor is waiting to be checked in, and one of the people on the shift didn’t show up for work.
Although it is not always possible (for example a store with single coverage) we should try to give the person handling customers the time to focus on the customers. This can be done in several ways. First, the employee’s training should be so comprehensive that she doesn’t get flustered over a transaction or a request. I’ve spoken about the importance of training in earlier posts and it is the bed rock of good customer service.
Second, we should try to automate as much of the employee’s tasks as possible allowing them to spend face time with the customer rather than worrying about filling out reports. Multi-tasking is highly overrated and studies are starting to show that the more things we try to do the less effectively we do them. Focus.
Third, if there is the luxury of double coverage (or more) on the shift, emphasis that the person behind the register’s main duty is to handle the customer interaction. By making it a part of the job it puts the emphasis on how important the customer service component is. Often times we think of customer service as just an add on to all of the other duties that an employee has to accomplish. By putting it front and center it is no longer the elephant in the room that no one really mentions but becomes a specific objective that can be monitored, coached, and delivered.
Good customer service takes time. We have to give our employees the time to provide it.