A few tips to reign supreme in customer service

   After waiting in a long line at a big chain store to buy a toothbrush holder, the cashier realized there was no price tag on my item. Now, I had other items too.
   In fact, a pile of really cute pink clothing for my niece and some other goodies, and hadn’t noticed the lack of a price on the little metal bathroom gadget. (Don’t chide me for being in a chain store — I shop local first before resorting to the mall!)
   The cashier was an elderly woman, something I’ve been glad to see more of in this store, because frankly I’m tired of lethargic twenty-somethings who don’t even say thank you between gum chewing. She was quite efficient ringing up my purchases, and when she came to the toothbrush holder, she turned on the help light above her cash register and we waited while the line behind me grew longer.
   Finishing with the rest of my items, she looked around, saw no one coming to help and asked me if $1.99 sounded fair. “Sure,” I replied, and she rang it in.
   If this isn’t a policy, it should be. Frankly, if I were sitting on the board of some big international store chain, and I were asked what that cashier should do, I would have voted for the $1.99 solution.
   She used her best judgment on the price, looked at the growing line, and saved me and the other customers waiting, a lot of hassle over something that did not deserve to stop an entire store over.
   Are your employees able to make simple decisions that save you dollars instead of pennies?
   If not, either you are controlling the reins too tightly, not training your staff or hiring people who are not capable of thinking for themselves. The business world is not a simple black and white place.
   There are many shades of gray, and showing good judgment in business will help you stay in business.
   Over the years I’ve put together a list of things customers want and need when doing business with you and your staff. If you’re not training your employees in these concepts, your business will show it.
   Give your staff the tools they need. Teach them how to deal with difficult customers without taking it personally, and most importantly, that warm, friendly attention will go a long way toward everyone’s happiness.
   In addition, create policies for situations, teach them well, and allow for bending the rules if needed. Staff needs to understand that any form of snootiness, apathy or argumentativeness is completely unacceptable.
   Role playing really works when teaching dealing with specific types of situations. Try it at staff meetings. Hire a consultant, or ask a friend to help if you’re in a rut or can’t get the employees to listen to you.
   Don’t argue with the customer. Arguing only creates more problems and a defensive customer. The customer isn’t always right, but he or she is always the customer! Customers pay your bills.
   They are the reason you are in business. Teach your staff to listen to the problem and offer solutions or ask them what they would like you to do to make things better.
   Solve problems quickly. Don’t attach blame. Don’t whine to the customer about another department for not doing their job. Accept that problems will happen no matter how good your business is.
   Get to the heart of the problem fast and solve it so that other customers don’t suffer from it. Figure out a policy to make sure the problem doesn’t happen repeatedly.
   Offer attention and acknowledgment. If people can get in and out of your business without anyone even saying hi, you’ve got a problem.
   Not only do customers need and crave someone to notice and care about them, but it will help solve shoplifting problems, as well as give the customer a chance to ask you questions so you can sell them something or solve their problem.
   Attention need not be a big production. If you’re busy, even nodding your head or waving will do.
   I’ve seen people walk by customers as though they weren’t even there, waiting for someone else to deal with them.
   Visit on your own time. It’s tempting to be helping someone while talking to someone you know better. It’s also inexcusably rude.
   Cashiers confiding with each other about their love lives while ringing up sales doesn’t create repeat business, it makes customers feel like intruders.
   Just yesterday I overheard very negative gossip a cashier was spreading about a competing business to a customer. It was so loud everyone in the area could hear it. It looks bad and gives your business a desperate feel.
   Be Polite. Those please and thank you words are pretty important. The other day I bought something at a store and the clerk did not say a word during the entire transaction.
   I felt as though I were insignificant. I offered a thank you when she handed me my bag, but she was already on to someone else. Watch what your employees do when they think they aren’t being watched. Ask a friend about their experience in your business.
   Set Appearance Standards. Gum chewing by employees sends a message of casual contempt to customers.
   Clothing needs to be appropriate to the place of business. Tank tops that reveal pit hair are out. Combed hair is important.
   A ponytail will do in food-service establishments. Piercings and tattoos should be appropriate to your clientele as well. Many people over 40 are offended by it. Identify your target market. Be sensitive to your customer’s needs, not your employee’s wishes.
   Be a Role Model. Business owners and managers are not exempt. Ignoring customers at your convenience is not acceptable even if you’re the president of the company.
   Get out there and see what your staff is doing. If you wait on customers yourself, your staff will learn from you. Make sure you’re a good example.
   Many small-business owners spend too much time sitting behind the counter on the phone or reading the paper. This makes the customer feel they are intruding if they try to buy something!
   Ignore your customers and they will certainly begin to ignore you.

Taimi Dunn Gorman is the founder of The Colophon Cafe and The Doggie Diner. She is a marketing consultant and serves on the state-appointed Small Businbess Improvement Council. She can be reached at taimi@gormanpublicity.com.

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