Often, these monthly “columns” are inspired by something that actually happened the frustration one of us encounters during the course of running around trying to keep up with life starts a discussion, which turns a light bulb on over someone’s head and we say “Hey, that would be a great monthly tip!”
So, this month’s sales tip brings us back to the basics of customer service. It could be that, more than anything else a small company does location, inventory, sales acumen, right staff, etc the success or lack of success in a retail business may very well rest on the shoulders of what happens in the customer service arena.
True story my good friend had a baby on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a holiday observed with varying levels of business closings. By the time I heard the good news, it was around 4 pm. I wanted to send her flowers right away, so I called the hospital where she was and asked for a recommendation of a local florist (I tend to have better luck with local florists than the national 1-800 chains). They recommended ABC florist and gave me the number. I’m thinking “Wow, good for ABC florist, they must really have their act together that without a second’s hesitation, they are the #1 recommendation of the hospital.” So, I call them, 3 times, but the phone just rings and rings with no answer and no answering machine. So, I go to an on-line yellow pages and look up the city where my friend is, and randomly pick another florist. I call them, say I want flowers delivered to X Hospital, and the woman says “Today? No.” That’s it, not “Gee, I’m sorry, I have no staff here today, how is early tomorrow?” or “Oh my gosh, my delivery guy just left with the last of today’s deliveries, I’m not sure I can get an arrangement there today”. Anything, other than “No” would have made me feel better. So I try another florist at random, ask if they can deliver to X hospital today (realizing maybe the holiday is making late day deliveries harder, who knows) and he says “Today?” then hesitates for a second, then says “Ok, sure, I can do that.” I have an idea that it was not his preference to hurry and make an arrangement and deliver it to the hospital that day, but he proceeded with the order with a positive attitude. So, he got my business.
So what’s the moral here? A few things:
- First, it is my firm belief that your answering machine should pick up after two rings when your shop is closed, and should have some pertinent info: “Hi, you’ve reached Excellent Framing and Art. Our normal business hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm. We’re located on 2 High Street in downtown Valley Haven, across the street from Randolph’s Department Store. More information about our gallery is available on our website, www.efa.com. Please leave a message after the beep and we’ll return your call as soon as possible. Thank you!” If your gallery will be closed for a holiday, the message should say “Hi, you’ve reached Excellent Framing and Art. We’ll be closed on Thursday, Dec. 25 for Christmas, and will re-open at 10 am on Friday, Dec. 26. Please leave a message…” Don’t make the customer wonder when you are open, if you are open, where you are located, etc. And get an answering system that you can access from a remote location, like your home, so you can change the message in case of inclement weather, a business emergency, etc. Read the manual and learn how to do that.
- If a customer makes a request that will be difficult for you to fulfill, how do you answer that? “No,” just plain “No” is not the first choice. Even if you tell them no but in a nice way, you can still perhaps get their business or at least leave them with the impression that you want to and tried to accommodate them. Have a few discussions with your staff about what kinds of questions often arise that fit that scenario (“Will you lend me 4 Erté prints for my cocktail party on Saturday night?”), and how you should, as a group, address them.
Never underestimate the finer points of interaction between your gallery and your customers, current or potential. There are a hundred ways to “score points”, as it were, and also to go sour. Instilling the idea that you are committed to do what it takes to make your customers happy and putting your money where your mouth is is the way to achieve consistently good customer service.
Lastly, not quite under the heading of customer service, but I wonder what ABC florist does that’s so great that the hospital recommended them? (Unless maybe it’s the florist’s niece that is the hospital telephone operator…). If there is a local source that could direct business your way, have you reached out to them to build a relationship? In this case, could the florist who got my business try to become the florist of choice at the hospital? Where do people congregate and see art a bank perhaps, or a restaurant, or a hospital? A local hotel? Is there a way you can supply their art needs, which could lead to business for you? Especially in a small town, those local institutions can be important contact points between your gallery and potential customers.