Aim Carefully, Don’t Over Shoot

I’ve worked in customer service, in a variety of different settings, for many years now and until recently I didn’t really ponder the dynamics of the customer service relationship too deeply.

A couple of weeks back I had the displeasure of shopping at a chain of clothing

“What do you mean you don’t need my help?”

“What do you mean you don’t need my help?”

stores whose staff have been mercilessly beaten with an attitude of “push, push, push” and the result is a flow-down effect on the customer. I entered their store and after about 5 minutes of contented browsing I was approached by a young man whose face was split by a smile that was not reaching his disinterested eyes.

How are you today man?” he boomed in faux-enthusiasm. I replied that I was great and returned my eyes to the racks.

You looking for something in particular, because these are made and designed in Oz” He said at me, while holding up a shirt from a nearby rack and pointing at it suggestively. I replied that I wasn’t and I was just browsing. However, this seemed to be like waving red to a bull – how dare I attempt to browse this store without his input.

Yeah, I get that all the time. Did you know that all those jeans are handmade? You’d rock the mauve ones” He said pointing behind me. I thanked him and told him that I was just browsing – again.

After an awkward silence he exclaimed “You look lost!” and moved far too close to me. I assure him that I was not, and I was exactly where I wanted to be.

Are you sure?” He asked. I repeated that I was fine but I now had a sinking feeling that I will not be allowed free reign of the store without being rude to this “salesman”.

Well, you sure look lost. Hey, you’d look good in one those jackets. I’m thinking you’re a dark blue kinda guy” he says while physically grabbing my arm to drag me somewhere. It was at this stage that I decided enough was enough and told him, in no uncertain terms, that I didn’t want anything anymore and left the store.

I think this kind of persistence is something that, if we’re honest, we’ve all experienced in a sales environment. For me, it drove home the importance of ‘reading’ a customer. Great salespeople will tell you that a good sales pitch gets the sale and a repeat customer. The ‘brute force’ method of mercilessly pushing a product will sometimes get the sale, but it will likely deter the customer from coming back to you because they found the experience to be uncomfortable or intimidating.

By no means should customers be ignored, what I’m trying to illustrate here is that it’s equally detrimental to overshoot in the other direction. A salesman who’s obviously faking his enthusiasm, and covering the customers like his opponent in a footy match is more likely to put off customers than keep them coming back.

– Kyle

Customer Service is Alive, Well and in Ginza

On a recent trip to Japan I was flabbergasted by the quality of customer service. I knew Japan’s great reputation, and I had high expectations, yet they were exceeded every single day. And boy did my credit card feel the full front of this effect.

Search the internet and you’ll find millions of people sharing their anecdotes of the unprecedented kindness they received from strangers in Tokyo, and I have my fair share of these stories too. A business man in the lobby of my hotel helped me purchase a stamp and then took it upon himself to post the card. Outside the Ryōgoku Sumo Hall after a sumo wrestling tournament I was singled out of a crowd of thousands and given a traditional bag of souvenirs by a fellow spectator. The woman explained to me that she had two and handed me a beautifully gift-wrapped bag of sumo chocolates, snacks and china bowls. Talk about a random act of kindness.

This is what generosity looks like

This is what generosity looks like

But what really charmed me was the Tokyo shopping experience… and how much of my savings I was willing to part with in the Mitsukoshi Department Store.

I am still embarrassed by the amount of money I spent on a designer hand-knitted jumper. But I don’t feel any of the usual buyer’s remorse or guilt. Why? Because the whole shopping experience was so beautiful I have nothing but happy memories of the day. From the staff who wrapped our umbrellas in plastic covers as we walked in, to being greeted by everyone as we walked around, and the actual purchase; everyone made me feel special and looked after. The woman who helped me took the clothes I had selected, placed them in the changing rooms, took them off the hanger and handed them to me. She stayed nearby to help with sizing, complimented me and then kept my selection behind the counter until I was ready to purchase.

At one point during that fruitful-shopping day, I went to make a call and came across a message I had sent a friend a month ago after being frustrated with Perth’s department store alternative to Ginza; “Customer service is dead, this is why everyone shops online.” Yes it was a little dramatic but after spending 15 minutes trying to find someone to take my money for the suitcase I had chosen without any help, I was a little disheartened. Reading this text message while standing the stunning department store I was struck with how different I had felt a month ago standing in Perth. A mere 30 days ago I was determined that everything I wanted I would just buy online because the in-store shopping experience left a lot to be desired.

Sure online shopping is convenient and cheap, but this trip to Ginza opened my eyes to a new level of customer service that’s the future of retail. Was my jumper available online? Yes. Was it convenient getting to Ginza? Well there was a snow storm in Tokyo that day, but I was determined.

And here’s the simple, probably unsurprising moral of the story: if my experience is anything to go by, people will be willing to walk through a blizzard and spend %*$&!# yen on a jumper, if staff are courteous, helpful, and kind to you. And it’s as simple as that.

– Emily

Good Brands Gone Bad

I had a terrible experience with a great company I admire recently. It was worse than the lukewarm coffee I drank the other day, or that time I had to wait for hours at Denpasar airport, because I’ve come to expect that from dodgy delis and Indonesian immigration. This experience shocked me because of my high expectations.

Recently the luxury high-end bridal designer Vera Wang started charging customers in her Shanghai store 3,000 Yuan (approximately AU$500) just for the honour of trying on her gowns. If the bride-to-be ends up buying one of the iconic dresses the fee is deducted from the final price, but I don’t think that lessens the sting.

One bad apple ruins the bunch.

One bad apple ruins the bunch.

Vera says the fee was imposed to protect the copyright of her designs. This is a valid concern. But there has to be a better way to do it than by undermining the Vera Wang brand by stinging and disappointing potential customers. Consumers expect more from a luxury brand.

If you have a great reputation, it’s important not to overlook the finer details. I was on hold for a solid fifteen minutes for an international electronics company. Their caller experience was a carefully crafted combination of shrieking tones and distorted ‘popular music’. This took me by complete surprise. Their products are beautiful and intuitive, their customer service is normally genius and their stores are spacious and stunning like their products. But gee wizz, do they really drop the ball when it comes to the telephone!

If you’ve worked hard to build a great reputation and rapport with your customers, don’t let it be tarnished by a bad experience that is so easily avoided. In this instance the tech company in questions really should have taken control of their phone image.

Just as you wouldn’t allow someone in your company to be rude to your customers, don’t let your Caller Experience tarnish your reputation. Remember, it can take 20 years to earn a good reputation, but just two minutes on hold listening to high-pitched chimes to ruin it.

– Emily

First Impressions Form Lasting Loyalties

Not being a massive sports fan I like to take advantage of the quiet streets and empty shops courtesy of the Grand Final. Thinking that I’d beat the crowds and gain the full attention of the sales staff I entered the empty shopping centre optimistic and in a buying frame of mind. Despite this positive attitude I left the centre empty handed but with a fresh understanding about the relationship between first impressions and customer loyalty.

Entering a small store I noticed that the two sales staff were gossiping at the counter and customercare
completely absorbed in their banter- not a great first impression. I felt like I was intruding on their conversation and nervously checked to see if I hadn’t just walked into a closed store. I then went to sample some hand lotion, but when I pushed down on the pump, the lotion shot out onto the shop’s glass windows. Being only a metre away from the staff

I turned to apologise and clean up the mess only to find they were oblivious to my indiscretion. So what did I do?

Well I learnt that customers who don’t feel cared for don’t care about a business. If I’m made to feel neglected or unwanted within seconds of entering a store, I’m unlikely to form any loyalty. I felt ignored, so I left and probably won’t be returning. In this instance they missed out on the sale – and a very loyal customer!

My negative initial experience will stop me from forming any long term loyalty to the store, and I’m not the only one to judge based on first impressions. released a report earlier this year titled “First Impressions Critical for Fuelling Customer Loyalty” that found 48% of consumers surveyed said that companies most gain their loyalty at their first purchase or at the beginning of their service.

These same quick judgements occur when your customer’s vital first impression is formed over the phone. Don’t let callers and potential customers feel like they’ve been forgotten on hold- harness the power of your phone system and make sure that every caller gets the star treatment every time. If you don’t, what are the odds they’ll give you a second chance at a first impression? I’m guessing the same as me cleaning up that hand lotion and returning to the store.

– Emily

New Year’s Resolution: Fostering Loyalty

At the risk of sounding materialistic, I love spending money. Nothing beats putting on a new pair of jeans or sunglasses. During this time of year, that part of my brain goes into overdrive; which got me thinking about retailers and the particularly tough year their sector has experienced.

Why were major retailers like David Jones and Myer battling it out for a bigger slice of the consumer pie by offering huge discounts? Was the higher cost-of-living really to blame for our frugal spending? Perhaps we could point the finger at the media for peddling this economic doom and gloom? Or maybe the problem is closer than we think.

It’s hard to deny customer service standards are declining and consumers are voting with their feet. After years of below par service and high prices, they’ve said ‘enough is enough’ and turned to the welcoming – and favourably priced – online stores like eBay and Amazon. The products are cheaper, shipping is relatively quick, and you don’t need to fight the crowds or deal with a store clerk who makes no effort in hiding the fact they’d rather be somewhere else.

At Messages On Hold, an end of year analysis revealed that for 2011 sales were up, as were our salespeople’s conversion rates. Just like Myer and David Jones, people continue to shop us around. But they also continue to choose us in the end because our product is backed by strong and attentive customer service.

From the moment a new employee joins the Messages On Hold team, we instil a culture of going above and beyond the norms in terms of service. It might be something proactive like providing each client with a bullet point list of their latest production’s messages so they don’t have to read through the entire script, or providing clients with complimentary seasonal messages on a regular basis.

This begs the question: what are you doing to retain your clients and how can you improve your service to gain new ones?

– Lachy Banton