In this blog post I want to talk about Customer Service, because these days, people don’t even seem to realise what is good and most companies sales are suffering because of it. I’m going to explain why customer service is important. What it does to your brand name and your sales and what you can do to improve it, regardless of whether you are online or have a physical store. A big company or a one man brand.
SO LETS GO BACK TO BASICS
If you’re in your 20’s or younger, then it might come as a surprise to you that there was a time before the internet and mobile phones, not that long ago I might add. I grew up in this time. Like most kids, I had a part time job when I was at school in a number of different places over the years. All different types, selling different services or goods. Even-though they were all different, the one thing they had in common was a focus on customer service. Shops spent time with new staff training them in everything. How they spoke to customers. How they spoke on the phone. How to deal with irate customers. How to behave. What was expected of staff and so on… You wouldn’t be allowed on the shop floor unless they thought you were suitable to represent their brand…..
Because they all knew that there were a number of other places people could go to shop in their local area [remember the internet didn’t exist]. What brought people through the door weren’t the different products available, but two things. Their Brand Identity and their Customer Service.
Customers didn’t expect much at the time, just simply a person who could answer their questions quickly, in a polite way and be around when they were needed. As a sales assistant, you were representing the brand you worked for and if you were rude or unhelpful to a customer then the brand would suffer
ALONG CAME THE INTERNET….
When the internet came along people didn’t really shop online at first. They didn’t trust the facilities for paying for goods online and to be honest, the technology wasn’t great. Now, things are very different. Everyone and their dog has a website, blog or online shop and people are at ease with handing over their credit card details via a web page.
The problem with the internet is that companies have got smaller and no one trains anymore. New staff starting a job at 17 in my day would have already gone through training somewhere and just learnt to carry on doing it in every new job, picking up more and more training as they went along.
Some time ago I wanted to buy a few toiletries from a shop called Boots in the UK. It’s a multinational retail chain which mixes pharmacy services and products, an opticians and some beauty and toiletries thrown in. Nothing outstanding or amazing, just your regular household stuff and a few brands. In recent years its revenue has started to tank quite heavily and they’ve tried changing up their products and brand offerings, revamping their stores, doing online sales and nothing…. the company was eventually merged with Walgreens in the US in 2014.
Now I grew up with Boots. I shopped there in my youth. It introduced me to makeup when I was 12. It stuck by me when I changed into a woman and has been there to grab the occasional emergency testing kit for my diabetes. Up to about 8 years ago, there was always helpful staff and friendly faces.
In July I was visiting my parents in the UK. I needed some shampoo and was passing by my shopping center. So where do I go? Boots of course. I couldn’t find something because the layout had all changed since I had been there last and so I look around for that familiar friendly face……. and I looked…… and I looked….. and I looked. When I eventually did find someone, their response was “I don’t work in this department, you’ll have to find someone else”. I had already looked for 10 mins, so I didn’t bother. I turned and walked out of the store.
It got me thinking about the change in customer service in general. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t restricted to Boots. It was everywhere. I had remembered stories from pretty much everyone I knew, across various parts of the world complaining about the lack of customer service. I had experienced it in most places myself, both online and off and when people actually remark on good customer service these days it’s unusual, not the norm as it used to be.
LEARNING FROM THE PAST
The point of my story is that it really doesn’t matter how large or small your brand is; online or in a store. Your customer service is still the thing that people remember about you. If you are not providing your customers with a good experience then why do you expect them to come back? Why are you letting customers leave when it is so hard to get them to even look at your products in the first place?
The internet has given us many things, but as shops have gone online, this part of business has seemed to have vanished. People are so used to being treated so badly now, that kids who work in shops today, in call centers or of instant help chat are ruder than ever. Even managers of shops seem busy or distracted by their mobile phone. Good luck if you actually want some help or have a question….
The internet has made people forget about customer service. No one meets face to face online, so you can be as rude to your customers as you like without ramifications….
HOW WRONG YOU ARE
Really? No ramifications? Just because you aren’t speaking to someone directly, they are still on your website. They are visiting your online store. Do you think your brand can hide from the comments this customer will now tell their friends on Facebook, Twitter, G+ or Youtube?
Rather than complaints going to 5 friends [which was the average for a customer complaining to friends back in the pre’-internet-day], now they are telling ALL of their friends and their friends of friends and their friends of friends….. The amount of people who will see THAT tweet or post or video can reach the thousands.
SO WHAT TO DO?
Big brands and small brands are just as bad as each other for this. Have you tried to ask Google about an account question? Try it. I bet it will take you at least 30 mins to find a link to do so. The links don’t actually work by the way….. and then what does a customer do? They ask the question publically via a social media network.
You must remember that customers expect you to be 24 hour response machine these days, but they also are happy if they understand any conditions you have, like opening times or delivery schedules etc. As long as you are clear what to expect, they will respect it. If you don’t, then they will want a response right now.
So how can you actually improve your customer service? Well by first setting some standards of what you expect from them and how they should represent your brand
If you have staff, you must spend time training them on how to treat your customers. They represent your brand and they must provide the experience your customers get. Remember, a day of training may cost you time and money, but compared to the hundreds of people negative press will reach, this is nothing.
If you’re on your own, make sure you set up some systems to follow that will make it easier to manage all parts of your business. It will help you to streamline everything you do and give you more time to dedicate to helping your customers.
- You must make sure that there are ways to contact you that is easy to find by the customer. Not tucked away in a tiny section of your website.
- Make sure, whatever way you provide, is responsive and someone gets back to them quickly.
- If you are on your own, make sure you post your response time or response “opening hours” on your site, next to where they can get in contact with you. It tells the customer what to expect which is always better than thinking that you don’t care.
- If you have a live chat system for help, then make sure staff are having a proper, instant conversation with customers. Waiting for 90 seconds for a response tells the customer that the person trying to “help” them is playing on their phone and not paying attention.
- If you have phone staff make sure they actually pick up. Making people call time after time gets frustrating.
- Make sure staff are actually helpful. If they don’t know something, that’s OK. A customer would always prefer them to say they don’t know and are going to check right now, than get a rubbish response or simple “I don’t know”
- Make sure staff NEVER hang up the phone. Yes customers can be difficult. They are phoning because they are annoyed already. Make sure staff stay calm and help. The worst thing someone can do is “loose the phone call”. Customers aren’t stupid and know that they have just hung up.
- If you have physical store staff, make sure their phones are in their bags or lockers. Making a customer wait for help because the staff are “too busy” is just rude.
- Staff need to be relaxed in store. Even have some fun. Customers like to see happy staff. But having a chat to each other when a customer is waiting for help……. Rude!!!
- Make sure you have enough staff. If like Boots, you think getting rid of staff is the best way to cut cost, then think again. You’ll lose far more sales [and customers] than the cost of a salary.
HAPPY STAFF, HAPPY CUSTOMER.
Working for a brand should be fun. All the points I have given sound all doom and gloom I know, but if you can reward good staff for their hard work and effort, it makes them respect your Brand and put in more of an effort for you to succeed. They take pride in their work and therefore you’re Brand gives a great experience to their customers. Great experience means good word of mouth marketing from customers and that means more sales for you.
- Do fun things every once in a while. Take them out or arrange an activity to relax.
- Encourage happy staff with maybe a bonus or some kind of monthly competition that encourages them to do their best.
- Get to know them if you have a small team and make them feel appreciated.
- If one of them has a talent or skill that could tie into your business, let them do it once in a while. They will appreciate it for life.
- As a final tip and so far it’s something I never see people do, but I would highly recommend it… why don’t you actually feature them on your website? Doing team things behind the scenes or if it’s appropriate for your Brand Identity, something outside of work. Show your customers happy staff. It make far more of an impact than you know.
So far, we’ve looked at the age before the internet and how those offline skills should be added online. We’ve seen examples of bad customer service and gone through tips on how your standards for staff should be set. We also talked about the importance of happy staff….. All these things add up to a great experience for your customers. If they are happy, they tell people. That brings in more customers, more Brand loyalty and more importantly for you, more sales.
[wc_fa icon=”cogs” margin_left=”” margin_right=””] Action Steps:
- Now I want you to take action. What is the one thing you are going to work on in your business to create a better experience? Let me know in the comments below.
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