Customers....Who Needs Them?

Rita Richardson

Posted on February 11 2020

I always say with a little bit of shame mixed with pride that I’ve spent most of my career, until now, avoiding the consumer!!  I’ve hit almost every rung of the ladder of retail:  inventory distribution, buyer, merchandise, sales, designer, owner and always escaped being face to face with the final purchaser. 

No one can truly appreciate the challenges that face someone who works in customer service until you've done it.   American consumers are savvy, usually.  In some ways, we’ve created a monster and since we’re all consumers we aren’t all that shocked when we have to deal with someone who pushes us right to the edge.

We've trained our shoppers to expect and therefore demand high quality service.  I've traveled a lot for work overseas and nowhere does the customer reign as queen like in the USA.

Years ago, I was shopping in Thailand for samples and I couldn’t decide between two tops.  When I was checking out, I asked the cashier how many days I had to return if I decided I only wanted one.  I can only describe her reaction (let me add there was no communication breakdown---her English was as good as mine) as incredulous.  It was as if I'd suggested that she give me everything I wanted in the store for free AND hand-carry them back to my hotel!  There wasn’t a system or a mentality in place for a return.  You bought it---you own it!

On this issue I think America has it right!  Partly because it's all I know and expect but mostly because it makes good business sense.

Good customer service is always rewarded. Sure, there's the occasional bad apple who makes you so frustrated and discouraged that you want run screaming into the street pulling every hair out of your head, but overall the benefit of making our customers feel special and respected far outweighs any negative interaction.

There’s lots of statistics and research that show how much “good” vs “average” customer service adds to our bottom line but also how sales and profitability substantially increase when we go the extra step from “good” to “great”.

It doesn’t have to be as extensive as a rewards programs or giveaways.  It can be small and easy.  Just saying “hello” to a customer makes them 2 times more likely to buy.  Let’s repeat that:   JUST SAYING “HELLO”!!!  How many times have you walked into a store and turned right around because the experience made you feel invisible?  I know I have.  As I’ve walked away to spend my money elsewhere, I think “If I owned this store I’d explode if my employees weren’t at least saying “hello”!!  Unfortunately, there are plenty of times it’s the owner that’s so preoccupied they don’t acknowledge me.  Unfortunately, that will bear many a bad fruit because an employee isn’t going to do more than the example set by the owner.

Even a small negative experience has a ripple effect.  Customers say that they are likely to tell between 7-10 people when they’ve had bad customer service.  Those same customers also say they will tell between 1-3 people when they have had a good experience.  We’ve all been there.  When you're happy it's warm and fuzzy but when you feel burned you want to tell anyone and everyone who will listen. 

There’s an axiom of business management called The Pareto Principle.  It says that “80% of sales come from 20% of our customers”.  Building relationships with key customers is critical but we never know for sure WHO is going to make up that 20%!  If we’re constantly building our loyal customer base, then the 20% means more customers make up the 20% and therefore more profits. 

When I started my first company working with product development teams for JCPenney, Dillard’s, KohIs we were always the underdog.  It would be so humbling to walk into meetings with a support staff of ONE and my competition brought in so many people the buyers were searching the office for more chairs!  It was intimidating and sometimes I felt a little sorry for myself but I was always confident of one thing.  Not one of those other guys with infinitely more resources, more staff, more talent would be able to beat me on service.  I would never let that happen!  I devoted my life to making sure that every buyer I worked with felt that their line, their sales, and their needs were the most important thing in the world. 

It doesn’t happen overnight.  Some days it feels like you’re losing more than you’re winning but our business is a marathon not a sprint.  Being dedicated to being the best you can be (no matter what you’re doing) will always result in a win…..maybe not today or tomorrow….but winners will tell you that’s how it works!

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