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Please…Don’t Take a Number

Customers like you deserve a personalized experience.

It’s happened to all of us. You’re in a store and you’re ready to buy, but suddenly there’s not an employee in sight. You’re running out of time, and think to yourself, “Don’t they want my business?”

However, the opposite experience is just as unwelcome; to simply enjoy some leisurely browsing and be descended upon by a swarm of salespeople pushing you to make a purchase. They have you looking for the nearest exit within minutes.

In either case, there’s a good chance you’ll steer clear of that store in the future. So, what is the perfect customer-service experience?

It’s been researched pretty thoroughly by everyone from management consultants and psychologists to marketing agencies, so it’s a wonder so many retailers get it wrong.

A good primer is Retail Rebooted, a report on retail trends from international advertising and marketing agency J. Walter Thompson. It rates “personalized customer service” as most important with shoppers, followed by a tactile and visually appealing layout, using events and samplings to make the store a gathering place, and curating the items on display. These are all things you typically can’t get online.

The Disney Institute, known for its customer service training, preaches a similar sermon. They say that excellent service does not simply come from a friendly transaction or helpful technology. It is the result of truly understanding a customer’s expectations and putting the right guidelines and service standards in place to exceed them.

Disney trains it’s retail clients on how to design high-quality service standards to create a consistent service experience, and to use tools to gauge the needs, wants, and emotions of customers at an individual level. This should include keeping detailed information on each customer so there’s a personal relationship and the customer feels known, unique, and understood, like ordering “the usual” at your neighborhood bar.

We recently visited with Tom Smyth, owner of Smyth Jewelers, which is known for its customer service. “You must carefully listen to the customer and give them direction to help them achieve their goals,” says Smyth. “Store associates are there to help with every aspect of the shopping experience. Sometimes our customers don’t know exactly what they want. That’s the fun part—figuring it out together. We instruct our store associates to work together with customers much like long-time friends or family members do. It’s truly a collaborative experience.”

One online reviewer may have put it best: “I have been working with Anthony when I come to Smyth for years. His personality and professionalism make shopping there a pleasure. I appreciate Anthony’s advice and honesty when making a purchase. He knows my style and guides me to make the right decision as to what item will look best on me.”

And while the vast majority of customers who come to Smyth are pleased with the experience, Tom Smyth says, “The true test of customer service is how you handle a complaint. When you handle the situation with professionalism, fix the problem and exceed the customer’s expectations, then you have a customer for life because you have proven that you stand behind your products,” he says. “As a local company, our customers are our neighbors, church members and friends from the golf course, which is why I tell our associates that our store policies are only guidelines. Simply saying, ‘That’s not our policy’ to an unhappy customer is not acceptable. There always has to be a solution. Instead, say: ‘Here is what we can do.’ It makes all the difference.”