Lori Jo Vest on Customer Service During the Holiday Season

The following is a guest post by Lori Jo Vest, co-author of Who’s Your Gladys: How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan.

It’s Holiday Shopping Season!

Do Your Service People Know How to Make the Most of Customer Interactions?

In spite of how busy things were at Macy’s that Saturday in late December, the customer service was fabulous!  In my typical fashion, I waited until the last minute to wrap up my holiday shopping. Every spot in the three-story parking structure was jammed, as the shuttle bus hustled people in from the lots at nearby office buildings.

I headed straight to Macy’s to get a few Christmas sweaters for my nine year old son. It was refreshing to watch the cashier efficiently ring up my purchases in the children’s department, all the while chatting with me about boys. Though she was in her late twenties and I’m forty-something, she easily found a common ground with me. She asked me how old the boy was who would be receiving the sweaters and told me that she had a seven year boy of her own.

In the men’s department, I had a similar experience. It was busy, crowded and a bit warm, though the fashionable young man behind the counter maintained his cool, calm demeanor, using humor to lighten things up. It says a lot for Macy’s that their staff members know how to keep their cool, in spite of the constant barrage of frenzied customers during the holiday season. I know I’ll readily go back in the future.

How can you create a similar customer service experience for your clientele? Share these tips with your staff or coworkers and watch the service at your company soar.

Start each day (or shift) with a quick team meeting.

Spend ten minutes connecting as a group at the beginning of the day or work shift.

This time should be used to get your staff focused on serving customers at the highest possible levels. You can do that by informing them about any changes in the routine, giving updates on new product offerings or sales, and generating an overall positive start for the day.

If your company is large, then break into groups that frequently work together. To work well collaboratively as a true team, members have to feel connected. The “morning huddle” is a great way to create team energy.

Conduct regular staff meetings.

If you don’t have regularly scheduled staff meetings, start now. They can be monthly or even quarterly, but they are an absolute necessity for excellent employee communication. Happy employees lead to happy customers. The improved communication that comes from regular staff meetings is well worth the small effort of scheduling and holding it. We recommend a one-hour time limit. (Anything longer than that should be created as a retreat and involve an education component.)

Focus on continuous improvement.

Customer service gets better and better when you stay in a continuous improvement mindset. During those regular staff meetings, ask “what can we do to make things better for our customers?” While you won’t be able to implement every suggestion, ideas from front line personnel can be a goldmine for improving the customer experience. When you discover a way to improve an area of service, designate a champion to ensure follow-through.

When a customer needs to be directed, be sure your staff know how to do it carefully and politely.

No customer likes to be ordered around – particularly when spending their money in this challenging economy. They want to be in charge. If there are times they have to direct someone to follow a process, have your front line staff “give” the directions as a question. For example, if you have to close a register line, you could ask the next customer, “Would you please move over to register 9?” If you have to ask them to wait, try “Would you please wait for just a few moments, while I wrap up this transaction? I’ll be right with you.”

People appreciate it when they’re asked for their cooperation, instead of ordered to do something. Would you believe that I actually had a receptionist at a doctor’s office tell me to “go sit down?” It was surprising, though I’m willing to bet it happens often.

Take care to make customer wait times pleasant.

If your customers have to wait, make sure it’s a positive experience. Play relaxing music, provide current magazines that are in keeping with your brand, and serve coffee and other refreshments. If customers have to spend time waiting on the telephone, make sure your on-hold message is entertaining.

Always apologize to your customer when you realize they’ll have to wait. People appreciate it when you acknowledge that they’re being inconvenienced.

Find a way to truly enjoy your work so you can do it with passion.

People who are passionate about what they do perform at the highest levels. If you’re a manager or are choosing to be a leader of customer service excellence, your attitude directly affects those around you. Be the enthusiastic, positive one who inspires others to follow suit. Focus on the aspects of your job that you love – like meeting new people, enjoying the pride of solving a customer problem, or simply providing your customer with the best possible retail experience at your store. Encourage those around you to do the same.

When things go wrong, learn from it, then shake it off.

Mistakes are the currency of learning. While they can be expensive, the lessons you and your staff can learn are unforgettable and invaluable. If you’re a manager, do a “post mortem” analysis to see what can be done to avoid the recurrence of the problem. Discuss it with the involved employee and ask their input on solving it. Put a process or system in place to prevent it from happening again. Then share the learning with the entire team in a way that educates everyone.

If you are the person who made the mistake, find the lesson, then let it go. Beating yourself up when you’ve made a simple human error doesn’t change what happened. It’s also detrimental to moving forward with positive energy.

When things go well, celebrate!

Some restaurants have a bell that gets run when a tip is left in the jar on the counter. While some may find it annoying, I’ve always felt it is a great way to inform the servers that a customer is pleased.

During morning huddles and staff meetings, talk about happy customer interactions and give positive feedback to reward excellent service. Employees love to be recognized when they’ve put significant effort into caring for customers. Have small staff gatherings every so often at the usual huddle time, perhaps bringing in breakfast or a snack once a month to celebrate service success.

Wrapping it up…

The holiday season is stressful for everyone, particularly those in retail. Today’s economically challenged consumers are hypersensitive – wanting the most for their dollars. They’re financially stressed and their expectations are higher than ever. Put these ideas to work at your company and you and your team will be well-equipped to handle whatever comes their way.

Lori Jo Vest is the co-author of Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan. During her twenty-year career in sales and marketing, she has developed extensive expertise in customer service and business development. She currently serves two masters, managing a metro Detroit television production studio, as well as consulting with small businesses on methods to enhance their sales and customer service efforts.  Her consistent approach to both positions is one of personal connection and long term relationship building.

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