How To Stop Rotten Customer Service Experiences In Your Retail Store
By Bob Phibbs
Last week I wrote a rather scathing review the customer service skills I experienced during my visit to The Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans that I also shared on social media.
When I spoke to one of the executives of The Ritz-Carlton organization about my awful customer service experience, he apologized and said, "We should have reeled you in after the first misstep, but somehow you just kept falling further down the hole."
So true and what I appreciate about his comment was the concept of reeling the customer back in when something went wrong.
No one should leave a department in your store or at your hotel with pent-up rage at the way you interact with customers.
The executive continued, "You gave us multiple chances to come back, but we didn't."
Here's the thing about good customer service, it doesn't just happen.
It's fine to give broad powers to your crew and let them use their own good judgment. But not everyone has good judgement.
And therein lies the problem... customer service is based on good judgment. Which is based on good training.
Without good training, good customer service is left up to each employee’s interpretation and service skills.
And whenever something is left open to interpretation, it often fails.
Think of it this way...
Your customer service ideal is like a bowl of apples; each and every employee is like a different painter.
If you just asked them to paint the bowl of apples, some would paint them a different color, others would paint like Jackson Pollock, still others might paint like Cezanne and still others might paint it like Picasso.
On top of that some don't like apples at all and will paint something entirely different.
Yet the bowl of apples - the core of what you believe your ideals to be - remains the same. Unless you give each painter lessons, detailed lessons on how to craft the picture you desire, you won't get what you expect.
Or worse, you'll talk about how great your painters are without reviewing the gallery of their work.
OK, enough of the analogy; you get the idea. Unless you inspect what you expect in your retail stores, there will be no consistency in your customer service standards.
But much of training is out of fashion today.
Most retailers give lip-service to training their employees. They approach training as something to get through. They trade off how much time it takes with how little they can get away with and how soon they can be done with it.
That approach never works to boost customer satisfaction.
You can't give lip-service to customer service if you're trying to compete with Amazon. All you have is your own personal integrity each time you engage a stranger, how you build rapport, and how you strive to become a trusted advisor. When you get that right people buy more and you realize that service to customer training is really sales training.
Sales training is behavioral training, and behavioral training like good customer service takes time.
It isn't something you do once; it's something you do continually in order to master.
I teach an easy but detailed sales process in my in-person and streaming video online retail sales training program, SalesRX.com.
But here again comes your commitment to your customers.
Every once in awhile, I get someone telling me I can't get my crew to do the lessons. I think, well if you can't get them in agreement to take the lessons, how can you expect them to do much more than say what they are already comfortable saying?
Your training must be detailed and thorough. Everyone has to agree on the bowl of apples as it were.
And you need to give your employees the time they need to absorb the information. When I do a keynote, I pack it so full of practical tips, I know it is a bit like drinking from a fire hose. It isn't intended as a training session; it is designed to show what creating an exceptional experience looks like.
When I am doing in-person retail sales training, I have to check-in with the learners to make sure key concepts are absorbed. I have to have them demonstrate what they have heard, and they have to be able to teach it back to me. For that reason, it is very time consuming.
But so what?
The first step in creating an exceptional experience for your customers is understanding how to create an exceptional training experience for your employees where everyone is exposed to the same material. Through practice and patience, they should all be able to perform at a high level.
And if they can't or won't, get rid of them and move on.
But again, you don't just watch a video or read a book and think exposure is the same as learning.
The key to stopping rotten customer service is role-play.
Role-playing is the key to absorption of your training material. When things go off the rails, as they did at The Ritz-Carlton with me, all of those bad instances could be written down and used to role-play with various departments the same customer interactions so everyone knows what should have happened.
Yes, you could tell them what should have happened, but you can develop their customer service skills much better by letting a group figure it out. They could come back to you with even better ideas of how to interact with customers than you had.
Without role-playing and following up, you won't have the necessary neurons fire in their brains to connect the training they were exposed to with the behaviors they are expected to perform.
By role-playing different service-to-customer examples that mirror one specific concept in your training, you get to give the person the opportunity to connect the dots between what you taught them and how to carry it out in a new way.
The more instances you can do to get them to think about a situation - starting with obvious black and white - this is right; this is wrong - you can move on to more grey instances where you need to see that they think correctly on their feet.
When I train someone on how to greet a customer, I start with just the words...not the speed, attitude, location, or intonation. I just want them to say, Good morning. If they can't choose those words on a consistent basis, there's no point going on to how to handle objections or top-down selling.
How to deliver good customer service in retail?
Like all training, there is a four-part bell curve to training retail customer service. Your employees begin at Stage One, not knowing what they don't know. Your trainees are in bliss; they think any and everything they do is great. And that's why it's so easy for them to give poor service; it's easy to do it wrong.
In Stage Two, when you present them with a new way to engage a shopper, frustration grows as your associates understand what they used to do won't cut it anymore.
In Stage Three, your associates have to think of every move they make and word they say. They know the steps to doing it right, but it takes a lot of thought to do it. Think of it as a baby struggling to take their first steps. Trainers call this being consciously competent, and it's hard to do right.
With role-playing in Stage Four, you are able to make your learners unconsciously competent. That means they can perform your new training without having to think of every phrase or every step. It is easy to do it right and hard to do it wrong. They are blissfully able to do what you taught. That is called mastery.
If training doesn’t end with mastery, it is futile.
You can't get employees to the mastery level by just exposing them to what they should do.
They have to have enough time to use it to build their confidence, to see different results from their previous behavior, and to develop enough synapses to overtake the bad habits they had prior.
And when you do that, you go beyond acquiring a good customer, you acquire their trust and their raves on social media.
If you truly want to provide an elevated experience for your shoppers, your company must evolve the way you look at customer service training from once and done to never ending.
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