Friday, February 19, 2010
A few days ago I was walking into my local Shaw's when a staff member greeted me at the door with a "How are you doing today, sir?" . . . WTF?!
I know Walmart has employed store greeters for years and some other places have caught on as well (Best Buy and Crate & Barrell are two others that come to mind) but a supermarket? Really? But you know what? I liked it.
All through business school, professors pounded the importance of customer service into our heads, declaring that any company or business with poor customer service wouldn't necessarily be doomed to fail, but it would be destined to underperform. In my experience as a consumer and as an amateur analyst of businesses, I've found this to be fairly accurate. In fact, I'm no longer surprised with the amount of variability and lack of consistency in customer service that I experience on a daily basis; some companies are good at it, others suck at it, and some just can't figure out what type of customer service they're supposed to provide. Perhaps what resonates with me most is the lack of inconsistency you'll find in customer service within a chain of retail stores or other type of business.
For example (cringing), you can walk into one J.Crew store and be greeted warmly by someone at the door, be approached by someone once to see if you might need any help finding anything, and are then left to enjoy your department(s) of interest at your leisure. You go into a second J.Crew store and you are ignored when you first walk in, approached by no less than five different staff members before you've even made it to the men's section, and you don't get offered a bottle of water or cookies when you're at the register! Ok, so the last one is something they only do during the holidays but you get my point, right?
For a long time now, many businesses have included customer service in their corporate values or mission, hoping that this will help recruit the right employees and also create a focus on providing good customer service throughout the company. However, clearly this isn't enough. In particular, many companies have gone a step further and started to tie customer service to performance ratings, both at the business unit and the employee level. I think this is a good strategy and should help ensure that employees will focus on providing good customer service . . . well, in theory it will; if you were being judged in part based on your level of customer service, and knew your compensation and/or likelihood for advancement was directly tied to it, wouldn't you focus on it?
With today's economy, not to mention the numerous and varied drivers of revenues and profits, how much should companies invest in customer service? I know the short answer is "it depends" but I am curious as to whether or not there have been formulas or algorithms developed to help answer this question . . . I am sure many academics and executives have already researched and written on this topic but I am too lazy to go to Google this morning . . . additionally, I completed this blog post last night but it was mysteriously lost/deleted by Blogger so . . . yeah, I just want to get this thing posted, haha.
Another thing to consider is that the definition of what makes customer service "good" can vary from person to person so a form of customer service that can be catered to the individual may be more likely to succeed in the long run . . . but then again, it depends :) Furthermore, the level of customer service anticipated varies considerably depending on the business . . . if you call Comcast, you expect professionalism and efficiency - if you complain to someone at McDonald's that your fries are too salty, you're really just hoping for a set of replacement fries . . . a smile, an apology, and a free gift card as well? Probably not happening. After all, isn't all customer service at McDonald's like this?
So what do you all think? Which companies and/or services can get away with shoddy customer service? Which ones wouldn't exist today without great customer service? Which ones need to improve? Which ones need to dial it down a notch? As for Shaw's, will I visit this particular store more often b/c of their store greeters? Nope. But will my experience there be a little bit better and is it possible there will be some day in the future when a "How are you doing today, sir?" upon my arrival will help turn around a bad day? Yup. In particular, even if customer service programs and initiatives don't impact the bottom line, they can still help with customer retention and satisfaction.
I'll leave you with this clip which I love because it captures the way I always deal with bad customer service: humor.
Have a great weekend and see you next week!
Posted by Arthur Russell Smith II at 12:13 PM