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Be More Than a Good Listener: 4 Tips for Stellar Customer Service

The key to outstanding customer service? Don't just listen--take action, says White House Black Market president Donna Noce.
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The key to outstanding customer service is listening to your customers--and acting on their feedback, according to Donna Noce, president of the retail chain White House Black Market. The upscale clothing and decor company--an offshoot of women's fashion retailer Chico's FAS--operates 351 boutique stores and grew 40 percent in the last year.

Noce attributes much of the brand's success to its close-knit relationship with customers. She explained White House Black Market's strategy for quality customer service in a video interview with the Wharton School of Business earlier this month. 

Here are four tips to improve your customer service--and develop a loyal fan base--from Noce's interview. You can also watch the video in its entirety here.

Be authentic.

Don't use privacy settings as an excuse to distance yourself from customers. 

"If your customer is your top priority, she needs to be your top priority in every touch point you have with her. I think you have an obligation to insure that you engage your customer the same way regardless of whether you're speaking to her in person or through a different medium," Noce said in the interview.

White House Black Market, for example, allows its followers to post on the company's Facebook wall. Noce admitted that this is unusual for a retail company--most business owners are wary of spam and negative cyber feedback--but she insists the pay-off is worth it.

"Our customers are very engaged with us because we allow them to share," she said.

Tackle both good and bad.

Another social media mistake: Sweeping bad reviews under the rug.

"When somebody has a bad experience in one of our stores... not only do we respond on our Facebook page openly, because I believe in being very open, but I or my head of store operations also call the customer personally," said Noce. She attributes much of White House Black Market's customer loyalty to this hands-on approach.

Ask questions.

You have the customer base, now ask them what they really want. Noce cited a poll that she conducted last year asking White House Black Market customers what color line they would like to see that the company had not yet produced.

"The No. 1 response was purple," she said. The company subsequently developed an immensely popular purple product line. "That's what we delivered, and they remembered it."

Take action.

Simply asking questions isn't enough--you have to respond to the answers you receive, said Noce. She once opened an entire store on this premise.

I logged into our Facebook page and I saw these posts coming up, 30 of them, all from women in Billings, Montana. I started reading through them and the gist was: "Oh my God, we don't have a White House Black Market in Billings, Montana. Why don't you come to Billings?"

So the next morning, I went to the office and got on the phone to the head of real estate. I asked: "Why don't we have a store in Billings, Montana? Find me a space." Sure enough, he found me a space. And this September, we had the grand opening of the store.

IMAGE: Flickr photo courtesy of Phil Dowsing Creative
Last updated: Jun 19, 2013

FRANCESCA FENZI | Staff Writer

Francesca Fenzi reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.




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