Why do we get it so wrong?

Mike Holtzer | Owner | The Retail COO Group

This article appears in the Mar/Apr 2016 issue of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand

We have all been there. Eagerly out on a shopping spree buying our favourite brands, or maybe finally ordering that special piece of furniture that we have been saving up for, or even heading out to try the new cafe that EVERY BODY in the office has been talking about. And with much anticipation you arrive… but you find yourself instantly deflated by the complete and utter lack of ANY kind of quality of service. It’s a struggle to even get any acknowledgment from staff! So you find yourself standing alone, waiting, wondering why, oh WHY is it so hard to give you people my money!

Service levels in Australia can be mediocre and it is one of the most important challenges we face today. Getting it right is one of the most important keys to success in any consumer facing business. Why is it so important? Obviously, poor customer service can destroy a business very quickly, but mediocre service can be just as costly. Providing exceptional customer service can create one of the most valuable marketing tools we have at our disposal – word of mouth. Bad word of mouth can send a business to the point of failure in the blink of an eye and tarnish it forever in the eyes of the customers.

Good word of mouth can propel a business into the dizzying heights of success without breaking a sweat. The problem is that as consumers we are geared to talking about our bad experiences. There is a saying in hospitality and retail – “every customer that has a bad experience tells 20 people while a customer that has a good experience might tell five”. I believe this rings true in all industries, especially in today’s world of online review sites and forums. Now, more than ever we need to work for that good word of mouth. Your business NEEDS those five people to hear about how great you are, so you need to work for it.

The thing that really annoys me is that the people who are running businesses are consumers themselves! They share these same experiences and same frustrations. So, why can’t we get this right?!

How do we get it right?

• Hire the right people – It’s that simple. Hire the right people. Hiring people who are naturally geared towards providing exceptional service will get you half way there. You can teach anyone to serve well, but under stress people always revert back to their natural preferences. What you need are employees that revert back to providing excellent service when they are under stress. These people are invaluable to your business - get them on board!

• Mix it up – Even the most customer focussed employee will get bored performing the same monotonous tasks day in and day out. So, mix up the shifts. Having staff that are trained in multiple areas not only makes them more valuable to you, it allows you to rotate them through different duties during their shifts, keeping them fresh, focussed and poised for excellence.

• Motivate! – This is crucial - you need to find a way to motivate your staff to consistently go above and beyond. This is part of the reason we see such high service levels in other parts of the world. For example the legendary service standards in the US are primarily driven by a tipping culture. Waitresses rely on tips to survive and if they don’t provide exceptional service, they don’t get paid very much at all. While this is an extreme example, it illustrates that with the right incentive, we are all capable of more. If you can find a
way to incentivise your staff to go above and beyond, you will undoubtedly see better performance.

• Budget for it – Excellent customer service is essential to growing your business in today’s market but it doesn’t come for free. I have seen so many operators get this wrong. They try to run on a skeleton crew even during peak trading periods in the hope of controlling their labour percentages. In fact they would be much better off concentrating on driving top line sales in peak periods and growing their business. I believe labour costs need to be seen less as a cost to your business and more as an investment in the growth of your business. It is an investment that will always pay off and needs to be budgeted for. Create that good word of mouth and the sales will follow! But more than anything else, I think we need to  re-evaluate what it is that we are trying to achieve. Essentially we are trying to find a way to have our customers leave feeling something positive. Exceptional customer service is  integral to the success of your business but it’s only a small part of something bigger – your consumer experience.

An exceptional consumer experience incorporates exceptional customer service but doesn’t stop there. It starts there and goes way beyond it into the sensory experience of your customers. Getting the lighting and music right can be just as important to your consumer’s experience as your customer service levels. So, you need to revisit your consumer experience through their eyes. You need to forget what you think you know about your service levels and see it from your consumers’ point of view. You need to see what they see, you need to hear what they hear and you need to feel what they feel when they shop with you.

Herein lies the dichotomy – how can you possibly see the business through their eyes when you work so closely with it? Answer this question and you will discover the key to tackling this issue.

Mike Holtzer is a highly talented COO, with over 25 years of experience in public and private companies spanning over four continents: Australia, North America, Asia and Europe. The Retail COO Group resolves operational issues for Retailers – Parttime COO’s, Non-executive Directorships, Board of Advice, Forums / Seminars and Operational projects.

For more information visit: W: www.theretailcoogroup.com