• November 25, 2014

Some tips on serving customers

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Posted: Saturday, February 15, 2014 12:03 am

Central Texas Business Resource Center counselor Aimeé Nesse has led customer service workshops and also works for the Salado Wine Seller.

Nesse earned a bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University with an emphasis in public relations, journalism, marketing and visual arts. She has passed the first-level exam for the Court of Master Sommelier and is the founder of the Bacchanalian Society of Central Texas.

Nesse serves on the Killeen Volunteers board, the KNCT Wine Classic host committee and is a member of the Killeen Young Professionals.

She shared some of her knowledge about customer service with the Herald’s Mason W. Canales.

Why is customer service important to running a business?

Customer service connects your company’s purpose to meaning. From owners to other key management to front-line employees, you show up to work as your authentic self and that makes an impression most customers will take with them in their first experience — within the first five minutes even.

The culture of your workspace should be consistent. Customers should feel you are easy to speak with and consider the front-line employee an expert. This includes knowing what’s in the sauce, respecting the wine list enough to know a few varietals, and not just pushing a sale, but rather gaining a customer for life. I don’t think a lot of employees know how much it costs to gain a client versus retain an old one and that’s something that key management should procure.

Starbucks is a good example of this. They do a great job of educating their baristas, giving them benefits, making them more satisfied as employees by calling them partners and giving them stock in the company, which produces a higher level of customer service and encourages a “third-place” environment. They connect the company’s purpose to their products and service.

How can good customer service make a business? And how can bad customer service break a business?

Good customer service reinforces the buying process.

You’ll find yourself thinking or saying, “I always get my printer cartridges at such-and-such place because so-and-so is my guy and he always knows what I need.” Or, “I eat there at least once a month because it’s our splurge.”

The purchase becomes something you take pride in and look forward to rather than just fuel or a printer cartridge. Good customer service is selling the sizzle, not just the steak.

Bad customer service — that’s not knowing and not looking up the answer. It’s not respecting that your customer can spend their money elsewhere. Almost all products and services compete with online sales, surrounding local communities, new businesses moving to town and bad reviews.

Bad customer service is not respecting what puts food on your own table and realizing that sometimes you have to eat a complaint and treat someone with more dignity than they have treated you because it’s the right thing to do. Integrity.

Unfortunately, bad customer service is easy to find out about via social media, but the most damaging are word of mouth reviews from a person a potential customer trusts.

You have to teach your customers how you want to be treated by showing them how to shop with you and educating them about your space.

Again using Starbucks as an example — not everyone knew what a latte was 15 years ago, but they do now.

What are some tips to ensure you are treating your customers right?

Make sure you don’t have any “sacred cows” lingering in your company.

Sacred cows are anything in your company that used to help you make money and were good for you at one point, but are now have more of an emotional or sentimental attachment to you and are standing in the way of growth.

Sacred cows can be employees that have been there for a while who started out great, but are doing lesser quality work, marketing strategies that no longer have the return on investment that they once had because customers like getting information differently, or lack of education to your front line personnel so that they can pass fresh information along to your repeat customers.

Send secret shoppers to your store.

Be in your store asking the customers how they feel and believe them.

When hiring employees, what are good traits to look for in a person to know they can handle your customer needs?

When I used to interview people in the restaurant industry in Nashville, I’d sit down with them and then act like I had to catch up on a few things and tell them to follow me. I wanted to see if they could keep up the quick pace with no complaint. I wanted to see how genuine they were about helping and learning.

I hired a cocktail server once at a posh restaurant once who had no clue about wine, upscale service, serving from the left and pulling dishes from the right, so on and so forth.

I was hard on her and told her if she wanted to keep her job she’d have to come in early for a week and learn everything she could about wine and service. She did, had a good attitude about it, and ended up giving the best customer service because she wanted it so bad. I could tell she was eager to please and I knew that despite her lack of experience and knowledge, she was going to make me look good by learning faster and trying harder.

Don’t let anyone in management who doesn’t love people — both employees and customers. At the same time, they don’t need to be their employee’s friend, but rather a role model. When you’re the manager, you’re the head bus boy. The manager of Chick-fil-A in Killeen, Kevin Durham, says, “I love the satisfaction of seeing someone pleased after they’ve been served.”

In today’s business climate, is the customer always right?

There are customers you want and customers you don’t want. Twenty percent of your book of business will take up 80 percent of your time and everyone should get quality service from you, but even with the job I have today you can tell there are people who walk into the office and want some hand-outs. They’re killing time or just brainstorming. That’s not for me to take personally, but I ask them one or two questions to let them know I am genuinely curious if they want to start or grow a business.

If they’re interested, we talk as long as it takes for them to get on the right path. People will tell you how to treat them by how they engage you. Front line employees know that they can escalate a negative situation and they should have the skill-set to turn the situation around.

If they don’t, then either they need to be re-trained or they’re in the wrong position. Customers may forget the taste of your dish or the price of your printer cartridge, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

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