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The 13 Keys to Superb Customer Service

Strategies for Selling
By Brad Huisken
This story appears in the June 2001 issue of JCK magazine
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Every customer in a jewelry store wants to find a friend in the jewelry business. Today’s customer is looking for a salesperson he or she can recognize, trust, and depend on for future jewelry-buying needs. The rewards of exceptional customer service are high: personal trade, completed sales, referrals, and repeat business.

There are two types of customer service. One provides the minimum, such as a sincere “thank you,” an invitation to come back, and a follow-up thank-you note. The other is a proactive customer service program designed to delight your customers.

Here are 13 standards that can help you maintain an exceptional customer service program:

  1. If you say it, do it. Nothing upsets a customer faster than a promise made but unfulfilled. If a repairman says he’ll be at your house between 10 a.m. and noon, you expect him to show up. If he doesn’t, you’ll be angry or upset. Many broken promises are not the fault of the salesperson. For example, a vendor may not deliver on time, or a repair shop might be running behind schedule. Your store should have a system of checks and balances in place to address the problem. When a shipment is delayed or a promise cannot be kept, notify the customer well in advance and provide a reasonable estimate of when the transaction will be complete.

  2. Satisfy every customer. Minimal customer service means ensuring that every customer is satisfied. But a professional salesperson will attempt to take every customer to the next level—that is, creating a personal trade customer. A customer who is simply satisfied will get you a sale today; a customer who becomes one of your personal trade clients will be a customer for life. Your goal should be to alwaysexceed the expectations of every customer.

  3. Keep personal problems personal. Everyone has problems, but customers want to enjoy the experience of buying your products and services, not hear a litany of your personal issues. The same is true of your fellow salespeople—the minute one person in a store starts griping, the natural tendency is for everyone else to chime in, which leads to an encounter session instead of a focus on customers. Worse yet, customers can feel awkward overhearing “back-room talk” and complaining. Avoid discussing personal problems; however, if a problem in your life is likely to affect your sales performance, do meet with your supervisor—in private—to discuss the situation.

  4. The name game. The simple act of saying someone’s name gives him a sense of acknowledgment and the feeling that he’s important to you. Using a customer’s name personalizes the sales process, and most customers would rather buy from someone they have a personal relationship with than from a stranger.
    One way to ask the customer’s name is to say, “By the way, my name is Brad.” Most people will give their name in return; if not, try prompting: “And your name is …?” Be careful not to overuse the name. Three or four times during the sales presentation should make them feel comfortable and enable you to remember it. When you hand the customer’s credit card back to him or her, address them by name one more time.

  5. Dress for success. Customers want to deal with professional-looking salespeople. Always look your personal best, neatly groomed and dressed appropriately. Avoid outrageous clothing and hair fashions and dress in a way that won’t offend anyone.
    If casual dress is acceptable, remember that you’re still a professional salesperson and should be neat, pressed, and tucked in. It’s best to err on the dressy side—if you’re allowed wear jeans, upgrade to khaki pants; if you’re allowed khakis but no jeans, upgrade to dressier slacks. If your company has uniforms or if you have special T-shirts made for a particular event, make sure yours is clean and pressed—yes, even if it’s a T-shirt.
    Be ultra-conscious of personal hygiene. Hair and hands should be clean, and fingernails neatly manicured and not extreme in length or color. Keep breath mints handy and don’t overdose on perfume or aftershave. What’s pleasing to you can be cloying—even allergenic—to customers and co-workers.

  6. At attention! Always give customers your undivided attention. Learn to concentrate on every word the customer says, even when other conversations are taking place or the telephone is ringing. You’re responsible for finding out what the customer needs to know about your products and services, and missing a word or a key phrase might mean the difference between making and losing a sale.

  7. Never interrupt. Interrupting someone is not only poor salesmanship but also downright rude, yet many salespeople interrupt customers because they’re thinking about what they’re going to say next. Remember, success in sales comes from your ability to listen, not your ability to speak.

  8. No fast-talking. If a customer can’t understand you because you’re speaking too fast, she probably won’t tell you. She’s more likely simply to leave. Nobody wants to feel ignorant or belittled. Remember that many consumers already think salespeople are con artists, and talking too fast just reinforces the stereotype.

  9. Sell with enthusiasm. It’s easy to fall into a rut when you’re showing the same products over and over, and sometimes your excitement will flag. But remember this: Your products are still new and fresh to your customers. When Grandma comes in to buy her new grandchild a silver cup and spoon, it’s a momentous occasion for her. It may be the 100th set you’ve sold that week, but it might be her first grandchild—and her first experience with you. Don’t spoil her moment—and your chances—with a lackadaisical attitude.

  10. Smile, smile, smile. Everyone knows that a smile is contagious—when you flash a smile, you usually get one in return. No one likes to deal with a grouch. Customers don’t want to feel as if they’re bothering you; they want to feel comfortable and welcome. A smile will dispel the natural resistance customers have when they walk into a store and help them feel welcome.

  11. The Golden Rule. Why do many people have a negative perception of salespeople? Let’s be honest: Many salespeople have earned that reputation. Customers have been lied to, misled, and treated rudely by salespeople. Many customers have come to expect that kind of treatment, but there’s no excuse for it. The Golden Rule—”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—applies to sales just as it does to life. Treat your customers the way you want to be treated and surprise them with behavior that exceeds their expectations.

  12. Make it fun. If sales is your profession, you should enjoy doing it. Otherwise, you won’t be able to convey enthusiasm. Your clients work hard for their money and want to enjoy spending it. For many, shopping is a form of entertainment, not just a means of acquiring goods. It’s up to you to make sure your customer’s experience in your store is fun, not a chore.

  13. Go the extra mile. Consumers who view shopping as a form of entertainment are buying the experience as much as the product. True sales professionals will do something different to make that experience memorable. Most customers expect a fair exchange from the buyer-seller relationship, but you should give them exchange in abundance. Don’t wait for someone else to make that extra effort and win over your customers.

In short, institute a customer service program that takes you above and beyond anything your competition is doing. Some ideas: Hand-deliver a gift that’s been purchased in your store, help a customer get reservations at the finest restaurant in town, offer same-day turnaround on a repair for a special occasion. Such service is designed to “own” the customer—to ensure that he or she wouldn’t even think of shopping elsewhere.

Think of it as part of your marketing budget, too: The service you provide can multiply your most effective form of advertising—word of mouth.

I know one jeweler who provides bridal customers with a limousine and driver for the wedding. Brides in his community are reportedly scheduling their wedding dates around the availability of the limousine. Another jeweler sends two bottles of wine to the wedding rehearsal dinners of bridal customers. The bottles feature a customized label with the couple’s name, the wedding date … and the jeweler’s name. Couples often drink one bottle at the rehearsal dinner and take the other bottle home to keep in a curio cabinet—and that’s free advertising every time someone sees it.

Another jeweler sends a gift to every customer who spends more than a certain amount. Gifts include a wedding-picture frame engraved with the couple’s names and wedding date (and the jeweler’s name), a piece of fine crystal, a goblet, and a silver knife—the kind of gifts that will be kept and cherished.

Compared with other balance sheet line items, the price of outstanding customer service is small, but the rewards—increased sales and referrals—are priceless. Shop your competition, learn what they do, and then do something different.

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