It’s About Customer Service
by Susan Dunn

My shopping experience lately has been amazing, and not in the good sense. Most of the time when I walk in a store one of four things happens:

  1. I can tell who the salespeople are because they’re walking around with headsets on talking to one another, and I can’t even catch their eyes.

  2. I walk in a store as big as a city and can’t find anyone I can identify as a salesperson. I spend more time hunting down a salesperson than the rest of the purchase process combined.

  3. I find someone who appears to be a salesperson who is “busy” doing something else, like stocking shelves, and is clearly annoyed at the interruption when I ask for help. They act like it’s an imposition in their job, not the purpose of their job.

  4. They are courteous and friendly, with lots of smiles and comments such as “Have a good day,” but they don’t know the product or features and waste my time, which is almost always precious. The friendly demeanors do not make up for the lack of knowledge.

There is nothing so valuable as a customer in your store, in front of your face. It takes a lot of time and money to get a customer in your store in the first place, and what you do once they’re there matters.

Once they are in your store, if you want repeat customers, your work has only just begun. It extends way beyond selling them the item and ringing the cash register. Remember, today’s consumer has choices! You aren’t the only book store slash office supply store slash clothing store slash gourmet cooking store in your area.

Furthermore, you are now competing with the ease of purchase on the Internet. What can you offer in comparison to the ease of pushing a button and awaiting the UPS driver?

Customer service:
Real people with positive attitudes, expertise about their products, and winning ways.

The Nature of the Job

Customer service is basically one interruption after another. In fact that’s the definition of the job. Service to the customer means doing things in an unpredictable order, and never doing the same thing twice. It requires high emotional intelligence – the ability to get in the customer’s shoes, understand their perspective, and be flexible in your dealings with them.

And the number one rule is – Don’t ignore your customers.

Some customers are in a hurry and want their item fast. They want to get in there and get out. Others are shopping and may want you to show them around, talk with them, make it an experience. You need to be able to read the signs in order to meet the need. Someone walking fast, talking fast, looking business-like, and getting straight to the point is probably in a hurry, and doing intentional, destination-point shopping. It may also be a clue if they’re dressed in business attire, indicating it may be in the middle of their work day.

Someone ambling around with a softer facial expression who’s being chatty may be inclined to make a purchase during their window-shopping if you make it enough of an experience.

Maintain Contact

One of the most important reasons for maintaining contact is because customers who are not satisfied will rarely report it. To YOU, that is. Typically they will leave, never to return, and then tell several other people about it. “Do you know what happened when I went to XXX? They ignored me. (They were rude to me.) It took me 30 minutes to buy one screw. Don’t ever go there.”

This you will never hear, and it’s the kind of word-of-mouth “advertising” that can kill your business.

People talk. Give them the opportunity to talk to you so you can address their needs, correct mis-service, and keep them satisfied.

Avoid Negative Atmosphere

If the word about your business is negative, though some people may continue to do business with you for various reasons (location, lack of competition, etc.) they will enter your store with a negative attitude which will in turn infect your sales people, and you will end up with a deteriorating situation that’s difficult to turn around.

I recall a very unpleasant shopping experience I had in a major office supply store recently. It has been an ordeal. By the time I got to the checkout counter, I was exasperated. The checkout clerk said, “You look like you’re mad,” and I replied that I was annoyed (though not at him), to which he replied, “Well you ought to see what it’s like working here.”

You see how the downward spiral gets set in motion. The checkout clerk gets the final brunt of the mistreated customer, and then has nothing good to say. The customer who expresses distress gets only negative feedback in return. In sum, no one has anything good to say about the store or the service.

It’s About Relationships

The more progressive businesses are realize the importance of relationships to business, and formalizing the connection. In fact I just read a job description for a “Global Relationship Manager,” whose responsibilities are to be “working with customers to develop and enhance sales, support and service performance.”

Establishing rapport with a happy and satisfied customer isn’t that hard; it’s keeping the relationship going with the unhappy customer. However, this is essential. The worse thing the customer can sense is indifference. There is nothing more intolerable to most individuals than to be ignored.

I’m sure you’ve heard someone at one time or another say, “It was awful. No one spoke to me. Not even so much as a ‘Go to h***.’” Yes, most people would rather be cursed, than ignored.

You may not be able to “fix” things exactly as the customer wishes, but you will have shown you cared, and this is no small thing. It fact it makes all the difference in their perception of shopping with you.

Remember, we don’t deal with reality, we deal with the perception of it. The fact remains about whatever they were upset about, but whether they perceive you as caring or not, changes the reality. You become “someone who would not have done that intentionally,” rather than “someone who doesn’t give a d*** about me or anything else.” Think of how this reflects on you, your business, your service, or your product.

And, of course. if you don’t really care you can’t fake it. The bottom line here is to care about customer service and then act it out in real time.

According to the experts at least two-thirds of dissatisfied customers will continue to do business with you if their concerns are addressed and resolved in their favor. The number increases dramatically (approaching 100%) if you resolve the issue in their favor on the spot. In this way instead of having someone who bad-mouths you all over town, you may have won a customer for life. Is it worth it?

Be present with a good attitude yourself, and make sure your customer service representatives have been trained to give customer service with emotional intelligence.

They can learn to make a positive connection with customers by simple techniques such as:

  • Making eye contact and smiling;

  • Stopping what they’re doing when a customer approaches, smiling and making the customer feel welcome;

  • Using such niceties as “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” and “may I help you?”

  • Addressing the customer by name after they’ve read it on the check;

  • Introducing themselves to the customer, in addition to name tag;

  • Asking questions such as “How is your day?”, or “Is it still raining outside?”

  • Speaking to children and babies accompanying shoppers;

  • Showing on your face that you recognize a customer when he or she returns;

  • Expressing patience and warmth in your tone of voice.

Knowledge of people and their emotions is as important to sales and customer satisfaction as knowledge of products and services. It’s still about customer service and customer service is about relationships. Help your employees develop their emotional intelligence skills, as well as expertise about the products you sell and watch your business grow.

Susan Dunn, MA Psychology, is an Emotional Intelligence Coach. She helps individuals and executives improve their emotional intelligence skills through coaching, Internet courses and ebooks. Susan works on issues of career, transitions, relationships, leadership, attitude, resilience, stress management, and life balance. Visit for additonal information.

Many more articles in Customer Service in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2004 by Susan Dunn. All rights reserved.

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