Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Being There, or a Short Lesson in Customer Service

Remember when you were greeted with "How can I help you?"

Let me tell you a story of customer service. I was looking for the elusive tortilla warmer, a kitchen gadget that appears to be in short supply. I went to several stores that carry kitchen gadgets without results. I went so far as to check some retail chain stores' websites for availability at my local store. Two of the retail chain stores proclaimed that they had the item I was looking for in stock. When I arrived, it was nowhere to be found. When questioning the retail sales assistants at these stores they couldn’t help. In fact they all shook their heads no and simply walked away, as if they were done with me. Only one sales assistant said she was sorry before she walked away. What I found shocking was not only was the information on the website incorrect but the sales assistant was no assistance whatsoever.

I’ve shopped some very fine stores and some pretty mundane places too, but to just tell a customer that an item isn’t in the store and walk away is crazy. What happened to customer service? I’m seeing this lack of customer service more and more. Back in the day if you couldn’t find what you were looking for, a sales assistant would help you seek it out. I remember buying additional sets of my silverware pattern and the store I was at didn’t have them in stock. The sales assistant called other stores, found them and had them shipped to my local store. She actually was a sales assistant; she helped me make a purchase.

 I finally found a tortilla warmer on line

One of the key ingredients in customer service is communication. It is important to communicate with your customers. If you don’t know what it is that a customer is looking for how can you stock it? In my particular case I was also looking for some other items but I simply walked out of the store with nothing. Why should I stand in line to buy one item when I was really looking for two items? So these stores not only lost the sale of a tortilla warmer because it was out of stock, they also lost the sale of a package of envelopes or a pair of socks, all because their website said they had something, but in fact they did not. They made me waste my time and gas because they failed to tell me in advance, when I asked, if they had a particular item. Frustrating a customer rarely wins them over.

Now I’m not saying that every store I happen to walk into must stock the items I am looking for, but it would be nice to know if they plan on having them in stock anytime in the near future. I’ve gone a lot of years without a tortilla warmer and I probably could wait a month or two if they were going to get a new shipment. This communication with a customer is vital if you want to build a relationship or trust. Leaving a customer in the dark is the worst thing you can do, it shows that you don’t care and no one wants to buy something from a company that doesn’t care. If you don’t have something in stock that’s not a crime, just find out where you can get the item and let the customer know when you will get more. Call a customer back when they leave a message asking a question or answer that email. Your sales may depend on keeping in touch with someone who is interested. Just because you don’t have it today doesn’t mean you won’t have it tomorrow. Remember it only takes a minute to leave a lasting impression, either for good or for bad.

 If you want to make a sale, actually help the customer

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