I have spent the past six years working in customer services, as well as being a 24 year old who frequently shops, dines out and rings her mobile phone provider in a panic every so often. During this time, I have witnessed excellent service and some truly shocking service, from colleagues I see every day and from shop workers who I’ll probably never see again. However, what I have come to realise is what I sometimes class as receiving good customer service, other people count as annoying. Whereas what I class as giving great customer service, my employers sometimes see as time wasting.
One of my main gripes is pushy sales assistants. I loathe walking into a shop and being instantly grabbed by someone who proceeds to shove numerous products in my face. In this circumstance, even if I am looking to potentially buy something, I will usually decline anything offered to me and make my exit as soon as possible. This is because I, like the vast majority of people, do not like to be watched or pressured when parting with my pennies. However, similarly I do not like to be ignored. My biggest turn off is when I walk into a completely empty shop, a sales assistant looks at you and then looks away. No greeting or smile is an indicator that you are not welcome in their shop. I once walked into one of those lovely little girly shops which sold fake flowers, Cath Kidston-esque cushions and little trinkets and was ignored by the lady behind the till. Instantly the shop of loveliness transformed into the shop of doom and gloom and I felt inclined to leave. It’s the same with beauty counters. Being a make-up junkie, I get an exciting rush when I sense an opportunity to buy expensive lip products but the attitudes of many of the ladies puts me off. There are no smiles or niceties here; they stare at me through their winged eyeliner and look down their perfectly contoured cheeks as though I’m not worthy enough because I have chipped nails and a hole in my leggings.
I know I might seem fickle (and perhaps a tad intimidated by the beautiful ladies) but I do believe that there is an achievable balance between the two extremes. A simple smile and a “hello” take all of three seconds and let me know that you’re there if I need you. If I look lost or like I’m about to burst into tears, just ask if I need any help. 80% of the time I’ll probably say “No thanks, just browsing” but at least you’ve asked. After that, leave me alone. I know you’re there and if I want help then I will seek you out. If you keep pestering me, I’ll think you are pushy and I will leave your shop.
On the other hand, I can sympathise with a shop worker. From my experience, employers seem to find it difficult to realise that great customer service and high sales figures don’t always go hand in hand. I’ve spent ages with customers before who have ended up not buying anything but have all been grateful for the help and honest advice I have given them. These customers have left happy and probably likely to recommend the place to their friends and isn’t that what every business strives for? I honestly believe that if you’re only focused on hammering out big sales then you really aren’t putting the customer’s needs first and in my opinion, that is what good customer service is all about. I used to work in a card shop and worked under an assistant manager who had this cold hard sales/target mentality built into her. On the tills once, she was serving a lady who wanted to buy a roll of wrapping paper. As employees, we were encouraged to offer extras at the till point (where appropriate), in this case perhaps a gift tag or a bow that would match the wrapping paper. My assistant manager didn’t greet the customer but said “Bows, ribbon or gift tags?” so quickly, the lady looked completely taken aback. She declined. “How about a gift bag? Gift box? We have a pen in this pattern.” Once more, she declined. “Any stamps today?” I was cringing. There are good, tactful ways to offer extras and reeling off a random list of potential items is hardly a good way to sell them. I believe that instinct is so important; always use your personal judgement. If someone is clearly in a rush, let them go. If you genuinely think an item will be of benefit to the customer (perhaps it genuinely ties in with something else they are buying) then offer it and don’t push it if they decline.
I strongly believe that good customer service comes down to treating your customers as individuals rather than treating them all in the same generic way. Large companies like Starbucks have been taking simple steps, such as asking each customer their name when they order a drink, to personalise their service. Of course, this could backfire if you have a particularly embarrassing order or a difficult name to pronounce (no-one likes to leave a barista stuttering while calling out your venti caramel hot chocolate with extra syrup, whipped cream and triple chocolate muffin order) but it’s a positive step forward. I really think that this separates the good companies from the bad companies as no-one wants to feel that they are just a number; they want to feel that their custom matters.
If it does get to the stage where you feel let down by a company or you have been treated in a way that you are unhappy about then do make a complaint. Whether it’s simply telling your waiter that you don’t think your chicken is cooked properly or writing a formal letter to a managing director, tell someone that you aren’t happy. I believe that the strength in a company’s customer service lies in its ability to turn around perceptions and to correct mistakes. I’ve complained before about a long waiting time in a restaurant and we got a free round of drinks, which was a lovely gesture. However, sometimes just an apology is enough, as long as the problem is quickly rectified. What really irritates me though is when companies ignore complaints. Nothing good will come out of it. There have been a couple of occasions where I have tweeted complaints to companies and did not receive a reply. They did not try to turn around my opinion and as a customer, it made me feel like they weren’t bothered about what I thought. I would never recommend those businesses and will actively discourage my friends and family from using them in the future. Bad reputation by word of mouth can ultimately kill your business.
Great customer service does still exist out there. Several people have gone out of their way to help me in the past, whether it’s ordering stock in from another shop or just keeping a promise by phoning me back. I also like to think that I have given good customer service in all of the jobs that I have worked in (and hopefully not annoyed/intimidated/ignored anyone). I think that many people have different opinions of what good service actually is but ultimately if the customer leaves happy then that is all that matters.