Burnish Your Brand by Polishing Up Customer Service
Recently, I was at a department store (that will remain nameless) on the hunt for — what else? — shoes to wear to trade shows. Half the place was crazy with shoppers buzzing around the end-of-season sandal sale. Sales help swarmed all around that area but in the full-price section where I was, it was deserted. No shoppers. And no sales people. Finally, I flagged a guy down, but he immediately announced that his handheld scanner didn’t work so he couldn’t help me. When I asked him to give me a hand with finding someone else, his response was to glance around listlessly and shrug before wandering off. Seriously? A shrug? While this wasn’t a luxury department store, it certainly wasn’t a bargain basement either.
Is this what service has come to? Sadly, as annoyed as I was, I can’t say I was that shocked. Too often, those on the front lines of customer service are reflecting poorly on the products, stores and brands they represent. Maybe it’s time to hold up a mirror to your customer service attitudes and behaviors to make sure your company is leaving a shining impression.
Define & Educate
While anyone on the sales floor, including Mr. Helpful, is obviously in a service role, customer service isn’t limited to those interacting with shoppers. Whether your customer is a designer, a retailer or a shopper, you’re in customer service. Just that realization alone could go a long way to helping you and your team think differently about the jobs you do and how to buff up your company’s perception. I think sometimes people who aren’t in a “customer service department” forget that they too are a reflection of the company.
For instance, if your company is active on social media, whoever handles your Facebook, Instagram, etc. is as visible and important as those in your service department. Your social media team is interacting with your fans daily. And often that means they’re fielding questions, comments and complaints. Don’t let them tarnish your brand. Have you put your social media person through the same training as your customer service department? Do they know the company’s policies on returns or defective product? If not, now might be a good time to bring them up to date.
With training and practice, great customer service can become second nature. And people respond to authenticity. While anyone can be trained to act pleasant, it’s those who truly sparkle that we connect with.
I recently heard an HR representative for a luxury retailer mention that even in internal interactions, their company mandate is that they treat colleagues like customers. This means everyone in the company provides the same stellar service to each other that they would to someone outside the organization. In this way, the brand keeps morale and efficiency high, but the policy also ensures that everyone absorbs the spirit of service they want to radiate in their stores.
Know Your Value
A friend, who helped out in one of the booths during the August ENK show, noticed that the brand across the aisle from her did much better when the owner was present than when the reps were staffing the booth. Obviously the owner has better product knowledge than anyone else. But it was more than that. People wanted to see his face, and that’s no surprise.
The biggest part of any sale — wholesale or retail — is relationships. Buyers — and customers — like knowing that you’re there and available and that you care, especially if they’re going to be spending a lot of money. The truth is, no matter how strong your team is, there are times when only you will do. Yours will be the only voice your customer will want to hear when smoothing over an issue or making a big purchase. Know when to be present.
Though I never spent tons of dough at my local Italian restaurant, my friends and I were regulars. But recently, we’ve cooled on our go-to spot, and eventually we realized why. Our usual server was no longer there. Now when we go, we get good basic service. But it’s kind of lackluster. We liked the old waiter and not because he gave us freebies or anything. Really it was just the recognition that we were his regulars.
As it turned out, our loyalty was more about the people than the pizzas. It’s something to think about when deciding what roles to delegate and to whom. Not everyone is cut out to be in a customer-facing role. Our regular waiter was a great face for the restaurant, always welcoming and happy to see us. That consistently warm glow became part of the hook.
A colleague of mine, Regina Salinas, who’s a part of the Children’s Apparel Consulting Group I co-founded, recently gave some great advice: Smile. It’s the best customer service tool you have. Even if you’re answering an email or handling a situation over the phone, a brilliant smile regulates your tone, enabling you to remain positive.
If you think your body language doesn’t matter, think about that shrug. Believe me, even if my interactions with the department store sales guy had been over the phone, I would have heard the shrug loud and clear.
About Caletha Crawford
Caletha Crawford Childrenswear Consulting LLC. Since launching her business and serving as the former editor in chief of Earnshaw’s magazine, she has spent more than 10 years in the industry. Caletha has a unique perspective on the concepts, designs and companies that resonate with retailers and consumers. Her services include branding, marketing and social media. In an effort to usher in the next generation of design talent, she manages special projects for and teaches at Parsons The New School for Design. She also co-founded the Children’s Apparel Consulting Group, a full-service, one-stop network of industry veterans that assists children’s clothing brands with every aspect of their businesses.
Keep up with Caletha’s business, client updates, market insights and trade show observations in her CCCC KidsBiz Newsletter.