Ask any business what sets them apart from their competitors, and nine times in 10 the response will be “our customer service”. Yet statistically speaking, this can't be accurate.
So what does customer service really mean? For me, these two examples – that actually happened to me not long ago – drive home the point.
I popped into a popular restaurant/bar for dinner one night. It happened to be State of Origin night, which meant they were a lot busier than usual, and the kitchen was swamped with orders.
The business struggled to keep up with this higher than normal volume, and as a result, my food order was a bit late in coming out (around an hour for a wood-fired pizza).
Without me prompting or even saying anything, when the food arrived (piping hot – it had not been sitting on a bench forgotten by any means), the waiter apologised profusely, explained the reason for the delay and offered me a free drink of my choosing as a means of making reparations for the delay.
It was a simple gesture that cost the business very little, but left a lasting impression on me as a customer – one which I have shared on review sites and with friends and family, and will continue to do so.
I was perusing the aisles of a discount store looking for ideas and accessories for an upcoming fancy dress party.
The relaxed and quiet atmosphere was soon interrupted by two women yelling loudly. It was quite obvious that one of these women was an employee at the store, and was verbally abusing a customer over her rowdy and poorly behaved children.
The customer protested that she was spending several hundred dollars in the store, so it shouldn’t matter, but the staffer yelled back something about that being of little consequence, and her rant continued to another staff member well after the customer left.
To me, the obvious answer to unruly kids damaging wares would be to ask their mother or guardian to kindly pay for the damaged goods and leave the store. Yet here I was, listening to swearing and verbal abuse being hauled back and forth, feeling trapped in an aisle for fear of myself becoming a target.
Once things calmed down, I left the store without making a purchase.
Undeniably, there was a big difference in the level of professionalism on display in these two instances.
One employee had clearly been taught that every customer should leave with a smile on their face and a good word to say about the business. The other did not demonstrate this – even though the customer at the centre of the dispute may have been at fault.
But to me, it’s much more basic than training, skills and professionalism. It’s about the fact that we are all human beings.
Those businesses who remember this, and respond appropriately to any given situation, are the ones that generally enjoy the best financial returns (perhaps with the exception of some very large entities for whom it is very clear that we are all just fractions of a very large profit pool).
At its most basic level, business is about helping people. A business provides a product or service to someone, in order to solve a problem. And that person, the customer, is someone who is willing to pay money in return for that product or service.
Treat every customer like a human being, and chances are that not only will they spend with you here and now, but the benefits will continue to flow for a long time to come.