One of the most important area of focus to develop a remarkable customer experience is customer service. Even the most innovative retail concept and impressive store design would ultimately be unsuccessful when tied to bad customer service. Truly exceptional customer service is not only the product of targeted and continuous staff training. It is the result of a company-wide culture that is customer centric.
Culture is essentially the things that a group thinks and does. In a company setting those actions are the result of the management's expectations and focus, as well as the reward system within the company. A retailer's sales associates will consistently provide exceptional service only if it is the main focus of the entire management team and if their bonuses, rewards or other compensation are linked to it. Customer-centric organizations have customers and their needs and wants as their priority. All other concerns are on the background of that focus.
Building a genuinely customer-centric organization is not easy. Surveys show us that most companies still struggle to meet customers' expectations. Retailers that want to improve should consider the following suggestions:
- Communication within the company should focus on the customer. Amazon is the perfect example. All meetings at the company's headquarters take place in the presence of an empty chair which symbolizes the customer. All decisions are scrutinized keeping the customers' likely reactions as the determining factor.
- Sales associates should be constantly encouraged to engage customers, to enquire about their needs, and to fulfill any demand. Nordstrom gives it's sales staff great freedom in their customer interaction, stressing only the importance of always satisfying the client. Trader Joe's, whose business model I discussed in my post 3 Key Tactics that Retailers Should Learn from Trader Joe's, provides great flexibility to it's "crew members" as well, so that they have the ability and permission of exceeding customers' expectations.
- Retailers should develop a system of effective communication between sales associates and senior management. It could involve a company online forum or just simple e-mail communication. However, sales associates should routinely transmit the feedback that they collect from customers to the upper management.
- Management should be quick to consider customers' demands and suggestions. Trader Joe's is again the perfect example. For instance, they are known to instantly introduce new region-specific products based on customers' in-store demands.
As always, I welcome your comments and ideas on the subject. I also would embrace any additional examples of companies that excel in customer service.