Six Steps Toward World-Class Service

Today’s business environment is increasingly complex and competitive because of globalization, new technology, product proliferation, brand erosion, market segmentation, consumer skepticism, and time poverty. These developments have rendered traditional business plans obsolete. For nearly every product or service, there are an overwhelming number of choices, leaving consumers confused. To stand out from your competitors, you must become known as the jewelry store in your market that provides world-class service.

World-class service is the talk of many but the reality of few. When a company provides a client with superlative service, the experience often takes on the aura of legend as the client recounts it to others. It’s the kind of publicity that can’t be bought.

What companies come to mind when you think of world-class service? What establishments do you patronize because their service regularly exceeds your expectations? Typically, these are not the places with the lowest prices. They create value by elevating the customer experience to the point where paying a premium is not an issue.

It’s instructive to recall the difference between product and process. Your product is the jewelry your store sells and the services it offers. Your process is the method by which you deliver those products and services. Pike Place Fish Market, in Seattle, has become world famous for this differentiation. Their product is fish, but they gained fame by the process they use to deliver it: They throw it. A doctor’s product is clinical expertise, but the process by which he or she delivers it—bedside manner—may be just as important. Since real estate agents do not have exclusives on the homes (product) they show and sell, their sole value is the service they provide (process). Here’s the point: Your store’s reputation may depend more on the customer experience you deliver than the jewelry you sell.

From the customer’s perspective, six simple actions determine your level of customer service. If you objectively assess each, devise strategies and systems to improve your processes, and conduct appropriate training, you may see immediate and transformational changes in your business.

  1. How well you listen. Do you and your sales associates clearly understand the needs of your customers? As Mark Twain once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” You don’t have to start by offering all the answers; begin by asking all the right questions and listening. Is the customer looking for a gift or shopping for herself? Is she celebrating a big promotion or does she need a piece for a special occasion? Does he need a gift for his daughter’s college graduation or for their wife for his silver wedding anniversary? Find out what your customers really want so you can better serve them.

  2. What you say. How well do you answer questions and provide information, guidance, or direction? You and your associates should know all about the designers you carry and be able to explain and discuss gemstone treatments, pearl quality, the “four Cs” of diamonds, the features of the timepieces you carry, and more. Helping your customers understand the range of offerings available and what best fits their unique needs will build loyalty. Helping them all along the way and being available for service after the sale will build customers for life.

  3. How you say it. Evaluate your own nonverbal communication—including body language, tone, and inflection—and that of your staff. In his book Silent Messages, Dr. Albert Mehrabian found that communication is 55 per-cent nonverbal (body language, eye contact, a warm smile, and open gestures), 38 percent voice quality (volume, tone, and inflection), and only 7 percent the words you say. Yet most people tend to focus their time, energy, and training on the words. If you’re carrying a new designer or just received a new line of watches, don’t just tick off the features as if you’re reading from a book. Let the customer see, hear, and feel your enthusiasm.

  4. What you do. The only thing worse than doing nothing is saying you’ll do something and not doing it. If a good customer needed a diamond anniversary ring in time for his 25th anniversary, you’d do anything to make sure he had it in time. Treat every customer that way, and you’ll have a lot more good customers.

  5. How you do it. You and your staff are there to please, not appease. Lead by example, and don’t tolerate sales associates who merely go through the motions. Every employee must take pride in the store and care about the well-being of their customers. Congratulate that customer who’s buying a gift for his college-graduate daughter or celebrating 25 years of marriage. Applaud the woman who just got a promotion and wish her success. Making customers feel special and appreciated creates an emotional bond that is not easily broken.

  6. When you do it. Immediate response times that exceed expectations create a positive perception, while long response times create frustration. In a drive-through world of cell phones and instant messaging, people expect instantaneous communication and response. If a customer makes a major purchase, don’t wait till tomorrow to send a thank-you note—send it today. As soon as a watch or jewelry repair is ready, call the customer—call her at home and call her at work. She’ll appreciate the opportunity to stop by and pick up the item on her way home. And she’ll hear your message on her home answering machine as you describe how beautiful the piece turned out and inform her that it was also cleaned and polished. These may seem like small gestures, but such actions make the difference between ho-hum service and world-class service.

Ultimately, first-rate service comes down to people. When asked why everyone working at Disney seemed so happy, former chief executive officer Michael Eisner replied: “We don’t hire grumpy people.” Robert Spector, author of The Nordstrom Way, described Bruce Nordstrom’s hiring philosophy: “Hire the smile and train the skill.” Nordstrom said he could teach anyone to sell shoes, but he couldn’t teach everyone to smile. If you look at the organizations that provide world-class service, you’ll usually find that they hire the best people and then provide a supportive culture where those employees can flourish.