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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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Taking Customer Service to the Next Level

It's a constant struggle, but with big rewards.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (July 7, 2010)

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines the word Oxymoron as “A rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined, as in a deafening silence and a mournful optimist.”

Or customer service.

We can all agree that customer service is an important part of every business. And we can probably also agree that customer service is subjective. Service that thrills one customer may be just ok to another. And there is danger in providing “satisfactory” service.

Several years ago, Vanderbilt University conducted a study on customer satisfaction. The study found that approximately 25–40% of satisfied customers do not return to a place of business even if they are satisfied. What’s the reason customers do not return? Because they were merely satisfied.

The Unofficial Kizer & Bender Dictionary of Customer Service defines Satisfactory as “Doing just enough to get by.” Do you have a parking lot? Do you have shopping carts, a cash register and bags? Great. That’s what it means to satisfy a customer’s basic needs – just getting by – but it’s not enough to keep customers coming back for more. You only have to look around you to see all of the choices customers have today. Why shop in a store that’s just okay when you can shop somewhere else and be thrilled? So, if the things that you sell are great, but your customer service isn’t, here are some things to consider:


If you have shopped in a Nordstrom, then you have experienced great customer service. The sales associates at Nordstrom sure know their stuff, and they make customers feel like a million bucks. How do they do that?

Do you think that each time Nordstrom enters a new market they bring an entire store team with them from some other town? Nope. They find all of their hundreds of new employees right there in the community. Your community. In a past life, the attentive sales person carefully wrapping your purchase may have once asked if you’d “like fries with that.”

The thing that makes Nordstrom shine is its unwavering definition and approach to great customer service. Associates are trained professionals who are empowered to make customers happy. Period.

Do your sales associates know your personal definition of great customer service? Put aside an hour or two and outline your definition of great service. Part of your definition might include: uniquely greeting every customer within 90 seconds; acknowledging each customer you encounter in the store; answering the telephone within four rings, etc.

Now, here’s the time-consuming part: each of the areas you identify will require you to write a customer service standard of operation.

Written service standards do two things: they are a powerful way to shape the perceptions that customers have of your store; and they are a great management tool to help you measure how well your associates are meeting your required level of service.

Each of your customer service standards must specifically tell associates what is expected of them. Your standards must be concise and easy to understand; they need to define what is to be done, how it should be done, by whom, and when. And most importantly, your standards must be based on your customers’ wants, needs, and expectations. The best part is that once they are written down on paper, your standards give associates a game plan to follow, and an objective way for you to monitor how well they are doing.

When your customer standards are complete, immediately schedule a store meeting to discuss how you expect customer service to be handled in your store. Make sure that you cover your new service policy with every person who works, or is affiliated with, your store. This includes contracted workers like class instructors and demonstrators; anyone who officially represents your store.


No doubt, working with customers day in and out isn’t easy. Consistently delivering great service requires the right attitude. The last customer out the door in the evening deserves the same care as the first one in the door in the morning. The customer who spends $1.00 deserves the same respect as the customer who spends $100.00.

Hire nice people, because nice is hard to teach. You may have talented, but surly people working in your store right now who are wonderfully creative. Great, let them be creative in the back room, away from customers. The associates on the sales floor need to do the following:

1. Follow the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Acknowledge every customer with respect and dignity.

2. Be empathetic. Take a walk in your customers’ shoes and try to see yourself and your store through their eyes; it will make a big difference in how you react to a customer’s question or complaint.

3. Be responsive. Show a willingness to help customers promptly and to their complete satisfaction.

4. Keep your promises. If you promise to call a customer at a certain time, make sure that you follow through. How well you keep your word is a direct reflection of who you are.

5. Never tell a customer “We can’t do that” unless you follow with “Here’s what we can do …”


The policies you have posted throughout your store are silent purveyors of your personal view of customer service. We’ve found unbelievably nasty policies in stores where we thought the customer was numero uno. Be your own customer for a moment and take a hard look at your policies. How do they communicate your message? The written word can be tricky – you may think you are saying one thing, but the customer sees something else. Do your policies “speak” in the proper voice? Are they written in a polite and respectful way? Do they make customers’ feel like you are on their side?

For example, a return policy that reads: “No returns, no exchanges, no exceptions” isn’t going to attract many customers in this day and age. It just makes you look unprofessional. A policy that states, “We will gladly refund or exchange your purchase within 30 days. Your receipt guarantees it.” is a much better choice.

When it comes to customer service, you can never rest. You must constantly be on the lookout to take your current service standards to the next level. Each time you review a policy or procedure, be sure to look at them through your customers’ eyes. Same thing with your sales associates – evaluate their service performance from a customer perspective as well. Even when you think things are running smoothly, there is always the opportunity to do better.

Great customer service is answering questions, solving problems, fixing what’s broken and finding what’s lost. It’s making people happy and calming those who are not. It’s the retail equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat every single day – with a smile on your face.

Just about every competitor sells the same product, just not in the same way. Customer service is the last great proving ground to differentiate your store from all of the rest. Let your competitors deliver satisfactory service; you’re on to Next Level Customer Service. Is customer service an oxymoron? Not in your store!

Note: To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column. Rich and Georganne will be conducting the following seminars at the CHA summer show in Rosemont next month:

1. “Extreme Retail Makeover: The Customer Experience - Hiring and Keeping Good People To Keep Your Customers Coming Back” on Mon., July 26, 1:30-2:30 pm.

2. “Social Media for Retailers: A Step by Step Guide to Join the Conversation” on Tues., July 27, Noon – 2:00 pm.

3. “Extreme Retail Makeover: Power Merchandising for Profit” on Wed., July 28, 10:00 am – 11:00 am.

 For more show information and to order tickets, visit www.chashow.org.

 KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

Keynotes | Seminars | Consulting | Store Design

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