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The Customer Service 101 Talk No. 2: 'Make them feel special'

The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!


The first Customer Service 101 Talk [“Trust Me, You’re Losing Sales!” Saipan Tribune, March 31, 2010], struck a chord and prompted a flood of responses and even face-to-face feedback from residents here on Saipan! So, in keeping with the eternal wisdom to “find out what works and keep doing that,” I welcome you again to Walt’s “Customer Service 101 Talk Part 2!” Please take a seat and take out pen and paper.

       Okay, Mr. & Ms. Business Owner, in session #1, I told you that you are most likely losing sales because of poor customer service. The responses I received to that session indicate that people notice, remember, tell others, and most importantly, act on how they are treated by the cashiers, service desk clerks and sales people they encounter in your business.


Acknowledge the person

For example, I heard of one fellow who’s been on island for three years, and who actually refuses to pay for cell phone service from either of the two main providers on island because of a bad experience he had when he first arrived. Quite simply, he didn’t feel special. As he put it, “They acted like they didn’t want my business!”  He uses calling cards instead. [Lesson: even if you’re the sole provider of a particular product or service on an island, there are ALWAYS other options!]


Ladies and gentlemen, people don’t like to be ignored. So the first thing I’m going to suggest you tell your sales people is to acknowledge your visitors when they step in the door.

The TALK: If you are busy dealing with a customer and another potential customer enters the store or office, simply take a second or two from what you’re doing and say, “I’ll be with you in just a minute, Ma’am!”

That simple acknowledgement has put a smile on my face and kept me inside a store when I would have walked out otherwise.


Acknowledge the transaction

Another important tip came from “L,” a regular reader:

“I used to cashier, and cashiers here (everywhere now?) don't tell you your total bill, don't acknowledge the amount you've given them, and don't count back / show you what they are giving you for change - - just hand you a wad of bills / handful of coins.  Sometimes, they don't even talk to you at all - - make you hunt for the total, silently wait for payment, hand you the "wad" and receipt. 

         “I was trained to repeat the total cost - - e.g., $14.96 - - and when I receive payment, e.g., a $20 bill - - to say out loud, $14,96 out of $20 - - hand the customer 4 cents, then a $5 bill, and say "That's $14.96 - 97, 98, 99, $15.00, and $5, that's $20" - - or something to that effect.  I would like that kind of service when making purchases with cash.  And to have that exchange about amounts / how will pay / and a thank you! ;)”

       This step validates the customer, shows respect for their business and their money, and reduces errors, thus keeping more money in your business.


“I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer

Another issue that has come up is the frustration of getting questions answered. As regular reader, “R” stated:

“One thing that gripes me that I don't suppose you can do anything about:  staffers who refuse to answer questions in deference to their boss who is, apparently, the only one authorized to answer ANY questions, no matter how simple….especially when the boss is not in, of course, so one doesn't get any answer at all...........!”

Understandably, many business owners fear that their workers will give incorrect information that may make them liable in some way. Similarly, many employees, especially in bureaucracies and government offices fear giving the wrong answers and jeopardizing their jobs. However, from the point of view of the customer, it’s a major frustration to have questions about a product or service go unanswered when one might be ready to make a purchase.

One solution is to provide your employees with a written operations manual of “Frequently Asked Questions.” Another is to conduct on-going training to empower them to anticipate and respond effectively to questions. In addition, instruct them to FIND the answers to the questions they are asked. (eg. “Hold on a minute, sir, I will ask my supervisor”) because “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer!

Having a customer leave your business with unanswered questions is letting present and future money walk right out the door!


But, wait! There’s more!

       You’ll notice that what all these tips share is the concept of simple communication--a vital part of good customer service.  But even that is not enough, especially when you’re in a competitive business where the product or service is essentially the same from one provider to the next.

On a recent trip off island, I stayed at two very different hotels. One hotel was clean, and the front desk clerks were polite and cordial. The other was a little less impressive esthetically, but the front desk staff was bubbly, friendly and seemed genuinely happy to have me stay there. Guess which one got my positive review on, a thank you email after my trip, and is most likely to have me refer others? Yes, sometimes there’s more to good customer service than just being polite.


The bottom line

There are basically three things you need to do in order to stay in business: 1. Get customers in the door, 2. Keep them there, and 3. Keep them coming back. Many businesses drop the ball at various points along this process. They don’t do enough to get the customers in the door. They don’t do enough to keep them there. And, they don’t do enough to keep them coming back. Providing good customer service is a vital component that can accomplish all three steps. Once people experience your business, they will spread your reputation for good (or bad) customer service to others. And in the age of blogging, Facebook, Twitter, has local and international implications!


By show of hands, how many people found this helpful? Are there any questions, suggestions or other topics you’d like addressed? Thank you, and thanks for attending this second session of The Customer Service 101 Talk. Until next time, remember, someone is always watching!

And thanks, to “A,” “L,” “J,” “A,” and “R” for your feedback! It’s really appreciated!


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