A few months ago we decided to do a little experiment. We knew we were going to be in six major cities over a three-week period, so we kept a journal documenting our customer service experiences in each place we stopped. We noted our interaction with every airline, hotel, restaurant, and store we flew on or stepped foot in. At the end of the three weeks we had a handful of pleasant experiences, but we’re sorry to report that most were nothing to write home about. Several times the interaction was so bland we compared it to doing business with a vending machine. And some experiences were just plain depressing. Even some of the great customer service leaders, the companies that everyone talks and writes about, failed to do much more than handle the transaction.
Are we being picky? Maybe. After all, we observe the customer experience for a living, but we don't think we’re that much different than you are when you’re a customer. And we’re certainly no different than the tens of thousands of customers who do business with you each year.
Great customer service -- customer advocacy -- begins and ends with the customer experience. The things they tell their friends about your salon can greatly affect their future visits. It doesn't matter if you're the store owner, manager, corporate executive, or front-line sales associate. You can either create a unique service experience customers will talk about or you can merely do what’s expected. Providing -- or not providing -- great customer care is a choice that is yours to make. Here are five things you can do right now to improve your customer care:
1. Treat your customers like guests.
There is a not so subtle difference between a guest and a customer. Disney refers to their customers as guests; Nordstrom does, too. Both of these companies are well known for legendary customer care. So, does a name make the customer experience better? Yes, because it represents the first step in a culture that permeates throughout the business.
If you invited a friend to your home, you wouldn't ignore them once they were inside; you'd be glad to see them and they’d know it. Customers are the same way. When you open for business you are inviting people to your store. Doesn’t it make sense to make them feel welcome?
We're all familiar with the Wal-Mart Greeter, the person at the front door who says hello and offers guests a shopping cart or circular. But the Greeter's job is much more important than just saying hello; that simple welcoming gesture lets shoppers know right away that Wal-Mart is happy to see them.
The Greeter is not unique to Wal-Mart. At Build-a-Bear Workshops a Bear Builder™ Associate greets guests and tells them about the stuffed friend he or she is carrying. Associates at Krispy Kreme look up from what they’re doing to smile at guests who enter the store. And if you’re lucky, and we were more than a few times in those three weeks, you’re likely to meet a Krispy Kreme associate who'll offer you a warm doughnut to eat while you wait to place your order. And at Ghirardelli Chocolates, we received a warm welcome and an individually wrapped chocolate square.
A greeter might make sense for you on days when the salon is really busy, but when it’s not, you can still make guests feel welcome. Adopt our "7-Tile Rule™": whenever anyone in the store -- sales associate, stock person, or CEO -- comes within seven floor tiles – that’s 7’ – of a guest, they must personally acknowledge that guest. You can engage the guest in conversation or look her in the eye and smile and nod, whatever makes sense at the time is okay as long as every single guest is acknowledged. You really want to make this a priority? Tell your team that if they catch you ignoring a guest, lunch is on you every Saturday for a month.
2. Make the guest experience hassle-free
Several years ago we arrived at a five diamond hotel at 3:00 in the morning. We had a keynote presentation at 8:30 AM, so we were going to have to sleep fast. Rich got his key and headed off to his room; Georganne and the bellman headed off to hers. When they got there the room appeared to be occupied, so they returned to the front desk where the night manager assured Georganne that the room was not occupied. This conversation continued until the manager finally visited the room himself and realized that the room had not been cleaned. Shouldn’t he have checked it himself the first time Georganne told him it was occupied?
Several weeks later we were checking into the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas at 3:00 am only to find they were out of non-smoking rooms. Not to worry, the desk clerk said, and handed us keys to a 2,000 square foot, two bedroom suite. At the same rate as our standard rooms.
Here's the thing: when your guests ask for something in your store, what are the chances they’ll get it hassle-free? Do your associates point to a sign and say, "Sorry, that’s store policy," or do they look for creative ways to save the customer and the sale?
Walk through your store and count the points of abuse that make guests turn to your competitors. Eliminate the "it’s-not-my department" answers, the "NO, NO, NO!" policies, and the "No substitutions," You can still have policies that work in your favor, just make sure they’re written in a positive voice.
3. Ask guests how they define great service
All store owners have an opinion of their customer service and it's usually better than their customers, but when it comes to service, the customer’s definition is the only one that counts.
Don't assume you know what your guests are thinking. If they're not happy they probably won't tell you; they'll just quietly go someplace else. If you don't know how your guests define great service, then you’re going to have to ask.
One day a month, station yourself near the front door and conduct Exit Interviews. Introduce yourself and ask guests about their store experience and about their interaction with your associates.
And it's always a good idea to ask, "What one thing could we do to improve customer service in our store?" This open-ended question will yield all sorts of ideas and opportunities that you may not have considered.
And when a customer tells you something good, write it down! Use their positive quotes in ads, bag stuffers, store signing, on your Facebook page, and on your website. A customer testimonial is instant credibility because it's 10 – 20 times more believable than what you have to say about yourself.
4. Provide guests with a way to tell you when you mess up
A customer complaint is a gift because most people won't bother to tell you when you let them down. And they certainly won't tell you if they think you don’t care. Asking guests for negative feedback is never fun, but it's critical to your success and your reputation. You're not a mind reader; you can't fix what you don't know about.
If you're up to the challenge, you can personally ask for feedback during exit interviews. You can also turn associates working the front counter into Reverse Greeters who engage guests in conversation about their experience in the salon. Place a notebook at the counter so they can keep a record of the things guests tell them.
If you prefer a less in-your-face option, then create "How are we doing?" forms on your computer and place them in "take-one" boxes throughout the salon. Add them to your website as well. And when you receive a negative comment, take it in stride. It's okay to mess up as long as you make an effort to fix what's wrong and try to do better next time.
5. Become an Extreme Guest Advocate
An advocate by definition is someone who speaks in support or defense of another person. In customer care, an advocate becomes the voice of the customer. We're seeing guest advocates popping up in all kinds of places from hospitals to hotels, from airlines to stores to spas and salons. It just makes sense in today’s hectic and competitive world.
Advocates handle a guests request from start to finish -- they own it. At Ritz-Carlton hotels the credo is "We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen." They are renowned for the care and comfort of their guests.
If you were a guest at a Ritz-Carlton and happened to tell the associate in the gift shop that you'd like another blanket in your room, it's that associate’s responsibility to make sure you get one. In other hotels the associate might nod in understanding and point you to the front desk. Or they might even go so far as place a call to housekeeping for you, and then forget about it. At the Ritz-Carlton the associate makes sure your request is handled to your satisfaction.
That's not a bad policy to adopt in your store. When a guest requests something from an associate, make it that associates responsibility to follow it through. If it's something they need to refer to you or to someone else in the store, it’s still their responsibility to make sure the request is handled.
A smart retailer once said customer service is like an election that's held every, single day and customers vote with their dollars. That's backed up by a retail study that found 15% of customers will leave your store and never shop with you again because of the product you sell; 15% will leave because of price; but 70% of customers will not return because if the quality of the interaction with the people who work there. Certainly, a renewed emphasis on customer care is a great place to start!