Retailers like hip supermarket Trader Joe’s and tech warehouse Best Buy have to represent a wide array of products and items on their shelves. As a result, they can’t be expected to stand by each product they offer, either figuratively or literally.
So to be true to their “best customer service” promise, these stores have done what few stores are willing to do: encourage honesty amongst the staff and induce them to speak freely about items and experiences in the store, confidently citing internet reviews and even sharing in-store feedback from customers.
The front line of any company holds expert knowledge, whether it be about the life cycle of a product, the advantages and disadvantages of their suite of services, or in comparing competing products on their shelves. The best customer service employees must be familiar with the product or service, but also must have a desire to know customer satisfaction, good or bad, after the transaction.
For the service industry, especially in Asia, this becomes slightly more tricky due to the “Harmony Play,” in which conflicts between employee and company interests are smoothed over without resolving key business issues like customer complaints and productivity.
A premier hotel in South Korea was beset by a declining reputation for solving customer issues, yet the General Manager at that time received only positive customer comment cards when delivered to him by his management staff. His solution was simple: he ordered the locks changed on all feedback boxes, and he held the only key.
Desiring to deliver the best customer service requires three values to be imbued by everyone in your company. First, have a higher purpose for your company. If you’re a retailer, encourage your employees to look after your company’s reputation as a trustworthy seller that deals in knowledge as well as products from the shelf.
Second, have an intelligence-gathering culture. If you are making and selling your own product, encourage openness within the company, and teach the importance of listening to clients and suppliers. Extracting information, even hints and clues, can be useful to improving productivity and managing relationships on all ends.
Third, remove the culture of blame from your company. That means putting a premium on solving problems, rather than performing a witch hunt to find out who is ultimately responsible. While you can’t throw accountability out the window, the urge to repair a faulty system and earn the reputation of “best customer service” should far outweigh the potential shame in being the reason for customer complaints.
Another important implication is that respect for customer feedback isn’t limited to staff or to employees on the sales floor. It must go all the way to the top for the front-liners to agree that listening to customer comments (often complaints) has a higher purpose. Encouraging intelligence-gathering, and then motivating employees to share their discoveries is essential.
Experiences with great customer service make customers more savvy, and they demand straight information from your front line, to whom they hand their hard-earned cash. Understanding this relationship should improve your and your employees’ drive to deliver better customer service that meets their growing expectations.