We’ve been on the road this past week and we’ve had more than our fare share of little service disappointments. Some big ones, too. Take the waitress who scowled at Rich when he told her the coffee burned his mouth. She said, “Listen honey, nobody wants lukewarm coffee.” She’s right. Lukewarm doesn’t cut it anywhere. People are happy when service providers are nice to them but we all desire over-the-top, white hot service.
White hot customer service is a good thing, and when you consistently deliver it, customers form a higher level of expectations for your store. And once you achieve that level of superior service, you can never let your guard down, because that service level is now your norm. If a customer returns to your store and is disappointed their experience becomes lukewarm. That single little slip will hurt your reputation more than if the customer came to the store expecting lukewarm service.
We decided to test this theory, so we held a focus group to discuss service levels in a few particular stores. After much discussion, we sent our focus group participants to a store with a reputation for superior customer service, and to a similar store with a not-so-great service reputation.
At store number one, the superior service store, our shoppers received “just okay” service. At store number two, the one with the lukewarm service, they got just what they expected. Now, here is the problem. Or the opportunity. Each of our shoppers voiced disappointment with the first store because they didn’t get the superior service they expected. They were, however, fully satisfied with their shopping experience in the second store. When we dug deeper, the thing that amazed us was that even though their service experience in the first store was not up to their expectations, it was still viewed as far better than the service in the second store. They felt good about their experience in the second store, but they were angry at the first store for letting them down.
The lesson in our little experiment is this: once you elevate your store to white hot service status, you can’t ever go back to lukewarm. We know your store associates deliver knock out customer service. But sometimes they don’t. When that happens, customers feel let down; disappointed in their trip to your store. And every retailer knows you are only as good as a customer’s last experience in your store.
Good customer service in general these days is an oxymoron; a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms. But it can’t be an oxymoron in your store. Once you have committed to move the service bar up a few notches above the competition, you cannot afford to let your guard down. Your service reputation, no matter how good it is, has no where else to go but up. It’s hard, but that’s reality.
Tiffany’s service is not lukewarm; Starbuck’s service is not lukewarm; Nordstrom’s service isn’t lukewarm and neither is yours. Lukewarm service will eventually kill your business.
Write a customer service standard for everyone involved with your store to follow (including class instructors and other contract workers.) and hang in a place where it can’t be missed. Talk about it every day. Reward associates when they consistently carry your customer service torch. And throw out whatever’s merely lukewarm … for good.
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