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February 5, 2016

It Pays to Look After Customer-Facing Staff

Bhanu Khan

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I turn my back on the gray, drizzly high street and stand at the threshold of the store, blinking in the light of a thousand LED bulbs. The light bounces off the glossy white walls, and sparkles on the cases of a hundred smooth and futuristic-looking mobile phones. It also glints off the solid black frame of the staff member's specs as he walks towards me. I smile expectantly…

Yes, I am waxing lyrical about my experience of being in a cell phone store. I was there to buy a new model of phone, and, as far as customer experience goes, this was lining up to be a great one.

My experience of this company's brand and its products began way earlier than my visit to the store. Around that time, I felt busier than ever and was getting a bit muddled with my self-organization techniques. I felt that a cell phone that could do lots of different jobs would help. The company's marketing material claimed it offered great quality of service, value-for-money deals, and the latest products, so I decided to go for it.

As the customer service adviser approached me, I went to say hi and to ask for what I needed, and … he swept on past me, brushing my shoulder as he went! He was in the middle of helping someone else. I looked around the store and noticed how the other salespeople were all with customers or were rushing to and from the storeroom, looking harassed. Unfortunately, things went completely downhill from this point. I was ignored by the staff, then spoken to abruptly and sullenly, and, to top it all, when I said I might go elsewhere for a phone, the store assistant shrugged. So I did.

When I showed surprise at my experience in the store, the assistant informed me that they were short staffed, "As always," and that they were on the point of walking out themselves. I decided to cut my losses and head off to find an alternative. The second store's sales assistant was careful to find out what I needed and suggested a model that would suit me.

I've bought further products from that store since, which is no surprise really. Most people don't have the time or inclination to continually shop around for new products, so they will find an outlet that they like (online or in store) and stick to it. Losing me as a customer seemed to matter not a jot to the first assistant, however it cost the company the sale of two phones, a tablet, a mobile internet card, and service contracts spanning several years. Really and truly their loss, not mine.

The company that I chose not to buy from had done all the right things to create a great experience for me - up to a point. It may have stocked all the best brands and marketed itself well, it even fitted out its store to be enticing and exciting, but it wasn't looking after the one thing that was (essentially) its bread and butter: its customer-facing staff. Organizations have long sought out their customers' views with surveys and incentivized questionnaires, but this one would have been better off asking its frontline staff how they were feeling.

When I walked out of the first store, I felt put out at the rep's behavior. But, then I felt sorry for him. He was trying to serve in an environment that was not helping him achieve his objectives, and this is fundamentally important...  There are five key areas that are critical to enabling good customer service and if these are not met, we're asking reps to do the impossible. These key areas are:

1. Having a customer-oriented product or service.
2. Overcoming competitors.
3. Questioning customers.
4. Developing a company-wide mindset.
5. Building relationships.

Take this quiz to develop your customer service skills and find out how you can place your customer at the center of everything you do. If you are successful at this, you will turn them into your best advocates and keep them coming back for more.

What's been your best experience of customer service? How did it make you feel? If you're a customer service representative, let us know if you've ever gone that extra mile for someone? Did you get the recognition you deserved after? Join in the discussion below!

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2 comments on “It Pays to Look After Customer-Facing Staff”

  1. Great Read Bhanu, Putting your experience aside. Have you seen the expectations of customers rise? How much could this play with perceived poor customer experiences?

    Thanks, Nick

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