Saturday, June 03, 2006

It's What You Know That Makes The Difference - A Customer Experience

My wife and I decided we needed a new bed and mattress set. Well, actually she decided and like a good support system I followed along and helped her in her research and purchase.

As always I am constantly on the look out when it comes to customer service and in furthering the concept of "The Total Customer Experience". None the less, as usual, I was some what disappointed.

The store we went too first was a chain department store. Here we were hopping to get a general knowledge of mattress types and brand pros and cons. Well guess what? Like so many other large retail firms not one floor employee, which numbered 7 including the department manager, could tell us the first thing about mattress construction or the differences in the various brands of mattresses they offered. Most firms hire and train people in minimal knowledge about the operation functions of their store and rarely about the products they sale, how to compare them or how to help their clients compare them. The emphasis seems to be "oh hi, you're here so buy or don't bother me". They do know how to follow you around and smile when you can find them. Now this may not be totally fair to the occassional employee that does it right because there are exceptions. Not a great approach for customer service or in creating an overall positive customer experience.

When I asked why I should by my mattress there instead of somewhere else I got a shrug of a shoulder and a very poor apologetic attempt at why without any real sincerety. Hint: Train your employees about the products or services they sell and why buying it at your store is better than at someone else’s. You may not want to know, But your customers do.

Now that shouldn't take a real brain storm to set up, but it is a major issue. Next we decided to check out a bunch of small furniture dealers on their pricing, furniture styles and mattress selections. You know the quality and style stuff. My wife usually leaves those issues in my hands. Whether or not that's a good decision on her part only she would know.

We went to eight small furniture stores staffed at between two and eight people. They all new their pricing and terms and of course that's a good start, but they were very short on the knowledge end and the customer service and identifying customer need really sucked. You would think tha smaller businesses would be more customer sensitive since they are competting with each other and chain pricing from the big stores.

The first store we went into gets my 5 star approval ratting. To my surprise the clerk that helped us was extremely knowledgeable. We were looking for a solid wood bedroom set of above average quality and unique design so we were in somewhat of a special niche market.

The sales person was standing at the door as we approached and greeted us with a smile and friendly sincere greeting. Then she asked what we were looking for and we of course told her. Yes, a lady sales clerk, who put all the men that day to shame. Now the store specialized in teak furniture and I will have to agree it was nice. What impressed me was her willingness to understand our needs (through a meaningful conversation) before even showing us the product. She actually cared about the customer first and not the sale.

Hmmm, she then showed us two selections of beds that they had that met our requirements. Now this gal in her late twenties new everything you could imagine about the wood, where it came from, the cut of the tree the lumber came from, the construction of the furniture, how and why various jointing techniques were used and more. She could explain why her Teak furniture (which was from Burma) was superior to other teak and why buying from their store was a better choice. If I was intending to buy the style of furniture she had I would have looked no further. She answered all my questions professionally and treated us with honesty and respect. I still may go back end of the year for something else I saw.

The other seven stores and some twenty sales people later couldn't even come close to our 5 Star Sales Lady. Some couldn't even tell me what the name of the wood the bed frames were made of let alone anything else. None could tell me about the construction or any other issue and most of all none could tell me what made their product better than someone else’s. In fact not one other clerk even bothered to ask what was we actually wanted let alone get up to greet us. They seemed to be glued to the couch, chair or lost in a closet. Talk about an other bummer experience.

The first sales clerk was trained in the basics of furniture construction by her company and then she researched and found out the rest on her own. Don't you wish she worked for you?
I may go back and do an interview with her just to see what else sets her apart from the rest. But knowledge of her product and why it was superior was a big start and it certainly made a dent in my armor. She was ready to meet her customer’s needs and educate them so that they could make an informed choice. Yep, FIVE STARS for the furniture lady.

The point here is your clerks, sales team and even the receptionist should be trained in your products. They need to answer questions and educate your clients/customers so that informed decision can be made especially if they are comparing you with others in your field. Everybody in the organization should be able to explain with some authority why your company and products are the best for the customer who is asking, including the accountant. This applies to chain stores as well as small stores, service businesses and B2B businesses. If you have one employee please train them. Don’t let the lack of information be the one thing that turns away your customers. It would surprise you how this one issue destroys your ability to finalize a sale.

If you would like to read more on understanding and creating a better customer experience you can go to The Customer Service Experience Blog written by Glenn Ross or go to The Customer Development Center. Both are great sources and give insight on customer service and the "total customer experience".

As always, we invite your comments and opinions.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

Tim, Even before you referred to my blog, I had already decied to make the following comments:
1. You pay for your training whether you do it or not.
2. Initiative: what a concept:-)

Thanks for the mention.