Take shopping to heart

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Q. What can I learn about customer service from my recent holiday shopping experiences?

A. If you shopped for your holiday gifts at retailers with exceptional externally focused customer service, you probably experienced the following: short wait times for assistance, friendly smiles, professional advice and, overall, a pleasant feeling. At the end of the experience, you wanted to take out your wallet and pay for your gifts. You most likely felt like this was time well spent in a relationship and you planned on returning the next time you needed the product or service.

If, on the other hand, you encountered a poorly trained, policy focused, clock watching, just-get-me-out-of-here sales/customer service clerk, then the shopping experience certainly had a different outcome. When it came time to pay, you reluctantly took out your wallet and completed the transaction. You might have gone somewhere else, but it probably wasn't worth starting the whole process over. One thing's for sure: You will think twice before patronizing that business again, and you will  go only if the price is right.

There is a real difference in these two scenarios. The first is very relationship-driven and the second is not. As with all great relationships, we need to continuously improve the status quo and measure the results. There are many numerical methods to measure your success, including customer loyalty programs, frequent purchaser programs and customer satisfaction surveys. We should learn from other highly successful and customer-focused businesses, such as Nordstrom, which trains their customer service reps to give customers thank you cards, invite them to special events and simply ask, "Are we meeting your expectations?"

The ultimate measurement of exceptional customer service is a combination of  customers repeating visits and customers referring your business to their friends and neighbors. So take your own personal shopping experience to heart and continue to improve that all-important aspect of your business. hme

Wes Hopper is the director of national accounts for home care for McKesson. He can be reached at 540-662-1319 or wes.hopper@mckesson.