Alec’s Shoes is one of New England’s most successful independent shoe stores, offering a great selection of athletic footwear, men’s and women’s casual and dress shoes, and a wide range of accessories.
But the store is known for much more than its inventory. In fact, it’s the exceptional customer service provided by the twenty-plus staff members that satisfies patrons and keeps them coming back time after time.
While this might seem like a simple approach, the store’s high level of customer service truly stands out. The floor reps are consultative, and focus on every aspect of how each pair of shoes will be used before making recommendations. They almost always offer each customer two to three choices, and customers who ask for size suggestions get both feet measured!
“Statistically, nearly twenty percent of American adults wear shoes that are the wrong size,” store owner John Koutsos explained. “And lots of people have two feet of different sizes. By measuring each customer’s actual size, both in length and width, and by considering the variation in size between their left and right foot as well as their hosiery preferences, we’re able to give them the best possible fit for both comfort and performance.”
Regardless of what type of business we’re in, gauging our customers’ and prospects’ needs requires more than a “one-size-fits-all” approach too. Here are a few proven best practices:
- Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choice. Most know considerably less than we know about the products and services we provide; and while we may each have a number of “in-the-know” regular or long-term clients who are familiar with what we do, there are still application-related or other nuances that warrant our attention. The best practice is to always ask clarifying questions with respect to each situation, and to go the extra mile toward accurately assessing all the circumstances associated with each situation and each customer’s needs.
- Focus on what each customer or prospect is trying to accomplish rather than on what service or product type they are “looking for” or what they “think they need.” By asking open-ended questions that relate to each customer’s situation or how they plan to use our products and services, we should be able to assess all of their needs, which might include a basic or customized approach, various products, options and accessories, or possibly a specialized solution about which they were unaware.
- Look beyond product and service needs for other hidden needs. The more we learn about our customers and prospects, the easier it becomes to structure the most appealing proposals. In many instances, there are issues with respect to company policies, structure, affiliations, specialties, and buying practices that might make a difference in how we’d like to configure our offer. In other cases, there might be personal needs to consider, such as a need to satisfy a demanding boss, a special need for service response guarantees, or the need to feel secure about a supplier’s competitive position or reputation (an important issue to the buyer who has been “burned” in the past by a less-than-reputable competitor).
- Develop a consistent method of uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs. Creating a standard list of items to cover, questions to ask and options/benefits to present is one good way to develop a dependable and thorough approach. Many have also found that using this type of resource allows them to pay closer attention to each customer or prospect. In some cases, this extra focus will enable us to discover the “little things” that, when addressed, result in closing the sale or in a better customer experience (CX) and long-term customer loyalty.
- Take an extra minute to double-check established needs, specifications and expectations. Sixty-seconds of prudence at the start can often save hours after-the-fact should there be extenuating circumstances or a misunderstanding about features, billing issues or other special requirements. A few final clarifying questions can even make the difference in getting the business, as most customers like to buy from those who show their interest and professionalism.
There are many components to business development, and many ways to grow revenue; and strategic customer service is definitely one of the often-overlooked pieces of the puzzle
When asked, most people say they do their best to provide good customer service. However, the methods vary significantly and tend to be inconsistent. To maximize the effectiveness of your team’s customer service effort, it’s best to develop and implement a measurable, strategic approach that leverages your organization’s unique benefits and that can become both consistent and cultural.
Simple & Strategic
Creating a plan, setting goals, enhancing communication and monitoring results are the key elements of the process. Here are some specific ideas on how you might get started:
- The first step is to learn three key things about your customers what they like, what they don’t like and how they feel about your organization
- Next, identify your organization’s unique offerings from a products and services perspective (what you offer/do) as well as a brand or cultural perspective (how you offer/do it)
- Note the alignment between these first two items, and then determine the things associated with your brand, culture and unique offerings that your customers value the most the real benefits
- Develop a communication style that expresses these benefits in terms that are relevant to your customers (rather than to you and your staff), and create a proactive, systematic way of staying in contact with your customers
- Define action steps that exemplify and reinforce your group’s brand and culture keep in mind, in most cases an organization’s most distinguishable assets are people
- Create and implement a system in which your organization consistently executes the action steps and communicates in the style noted above Monitor and measure results… continually discuss and refine the process regularly include this topic on staff meeting and sales meeting agendas; find a tool (such as NPS) to continually gather relevant customer feedback, and make use of it when making decisions
Growing a business is not easy work, but it can become easier if we delight, engage, and retain our customers.
Possibly Matthew Tashjian, a Senior VP at Merrill Lynch in Hartford, CT sums it up best as he often says, “One way to make money is to not lose any!”
People readily acknowledge that an organization must provide “good” customer experience (CX) in order to maintain their competitive position.
In support of this perspective, here are some interesting statistics that can help quantify the value of allocating time and resources to the customer experience and to effective customer service:
- 80-90 percent of service problems are leadership related (Deming, Juran, and Crosby)
- Fewer than half of US executives know who their most loyal customers are (Acxiom & Loyalty 360)
- A 5% increase in customer retention increases a company’s profits by 25% to 95%, and a 10% increase in customer retention levels result in a 30% increase in the value of the company. (Bain & Co)
- Consumers who have stated that they have a strong relationship with a single brand, over 64% said it was because they had a “shared value” with the brand in question (Harvard Business Review)
- 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.(McKinsey)
- It is 6-7 times more costly to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer. (White House Office of Consumer Affairs)
- 55% of customers would pay extra to guarantee better service (Defaqto research)
- A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10% (Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy & Mark Murphy)
- 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back (1Financial Training services)
- 83% of consumers require some degree of customer support while making an online purchase. (eConsultancy)
- 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. (Forrester)
Beware… while many have recognized the above-listed realities, they have also failed to make effective transitions that truly improve the customer experience or retention levels.
According to a recent McKinsey article, some of the most common pitfalls associated with ineffective customer experience transformations are:
- Lack of vision. “Many managers enter a transformation with no real vision for the organization’s future state,” the article explains. “Instead, they have a general desire to improve the customer experience and rush into action very quickly, before defining a more specific vision. Targets are often vague, devoid of aspiration, and lacking in specificity…”
- No top-level commitment. If the transformation effort doesn’t become a top priority for the CEO and the executive team, it will likely lose momentum or stall completely as other “priorities” arise, or when various stakeholders resist the “extra work,” or when general apathy materializes.
- Failure to quantify potential gains. Without a clear expectation of the anticipated return-on-investment, it can be difficult to secure sufficient resources or the necessary budget.
- Misaligned goals. Referenced as “heedlessness” by McKinsey, launching a customer-experience transformations based on assumptions about what matters most to customers can result in little-or-no gain and lots of frustration. “Some organizations set out to boil the ocean,” the article states. Similarly, and despite good intentions, trying to transform all parts of the business at once will seldom result in success.