On December 22, 2005 I posted about an abysmal customer service experience I had that week at my local JC Penney store. Up to that point I was a long time loyal customer but this was my second straight incident of poor customer service there. Through their Web site, I also e-mailed their corporate office and received a prompt apology from the store manager.Since that day, the post has collected 15 other comments complaining about various Penney stores and their catalog department (including one two days ago). On July 8, Retail Worker left a comment about the others that began
"obviously alot (sic) of you idiots have never worked retail…"
She then made some negative comments about them. I replied to her comment somewhat sarcastically in the beginning, agreed with her that some customers could be jerks, and went on to suggest that she needed to change her attitude.
To her credit she replied to that comment in a more civil tone.
"?¦But coming here and listening to some of these ridiculous stories…I’m sure the associate’s story is a completely different one. Most customers in these situations are jerks. They feel as though every single person in the store should be equipped to handle every situation which I’m sorry is not true…If somebody can’t help you out well at Customer Service…here’s a thought…maybe they are NEW! If every associate knew how to handle every situation correctly then we wouldn’t have supervisors or managers…who by the way…can’t always get there right away. They may be helping another customer. I don’t even work at JC Penny’s, but I sure know how the associates feel. Everybody should have to work retail and least a couple of mths (sic) out their life including Christmas time. Yes “Customer Service” is about the customer’s needs and I am happy to accomodate (sic) them…so long as they are not ridiculous and so long as they do not talk down to me or get in my face. "?¦Don’t people have better things to do than to complain about one bad shopping experience in which the associate may have been having a bad day or in which the customer may in fact have been a little rude?
Let´s look at some data. Several years ago the Gallup Organization surveyed hundreds of customers and asked them about their expectations. Their results showed that there were four levels of customer expectations*:
("These steps only prevent dissatisfaction. They cannot drive customer satisfaction.")
Level 1. Customers expect accuracy. They want the room or car they reserved. Their bank statements should be accurate.
Level 2. Customers expect availability. Your products, stores, services should be available in your customers´ markets and convenient to access.
Level 3. Customers expect partnership. They want you to listen, to be responsive, to be on the same side of the fence as you.
Level 4. Customers want advice. They feel the closest to the organizations that help them learn. If you meet their expectations on partnership and advice, your customers will become your advocates.
*Gallup Survey results from the book; First You Break All The Rules. Pp. 129-132.
These first two expectations, accuracy and availability, are the DNA of customer service. This is where things go wrong in most cases.
Note Level 3 above. From your replies, Retail Worker, it sounds like you view customer service issues as employee vs. customer battles. It should not be that way. While I don´t have the data at my fingertips, I believe that in the overwhelming majority of cases the customer has a valid issue. Yes, there are some people who are "jerks" but they are few and far between. They may also be responding to an employee who is behaving in an unprofessional manner.
But the blame isn´t always on the employee. Sometimes the business owners mislead customers or create policies more designed to benefit the company than they are to encourage customer loyalty. Sometimes the owners don´t provide adequate training or follow up to see that employees are held accountable. You commented that employees couldn´t know all of the situations. True, but it is management´s responsibility to see employees have the resources they need to meet or exceed customers´ needs. If you´re going to point a finger at someone, Retail Worker, perhaps it´s senior management, not the customer. By the way, very few customers will have a problem when an employee responds to a question with, "You know; I´m new here. Let me ask one of my associates. I´ll be right back with the answer."
Finally, when faced with an upset customer, an employee should always respond in a professional manner, even when the customer is rude. Take it professionally, not personally. (I had to bite my tongue plenty of times when facing rude customers; I know where you´re coming from, but professionalism is not only your armor, it is your salvation.)
Try this. For the next seven working days treat every customer service problem as a problem you will solve in the customers´ favor. Be on the customers´ side even if they are returning an obviously worn swimsuit. Set a goal of watching each customer walk out of your store with a smile on his or her face ready to brag about you and your company. Remember level 3 above. Be their partner, not their opponent. If you even meet the goal only half the time, you will feel some much better about your career and you will have retained customers for your company.
If you are really serious about a career in sales management, then I suggest you read the above-mentioned book and a book by T. Scott Gross called "Positively Outrageous Service." Consider also taking the Dale Carnegie course, "Effective Communications and Human Relations." I wish I had taken it at age 25, not age 35.
Remember, Retail Worker, the saying is "The Customer is always right." It´s not, "The Customer is only right part of the time." Companies like Nordstrom´s, Ritz-Carlton, Stew Leonard´s, The Container Store, and many others not only believe this, they breathe it every day. That´s why each is best in its class.
Good luck to you.