First impressions carry outsize importance because of how memory works. "If I read you a long list of spices, you would remember the ones at the beginning and at the end," said Micah Solomon, co-author of Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization. "That's how people remember customer service."
So create a written greeting script to ensure employees remember it.
Even if a store becomes unusually crowded, still acknowledge every customer, even if you’re on the phone. "It can be a simple eye contact and a smile," he said. Repeat customers should be flagged in the company's appointment system, so you can recognize them with a warm "Welcome back.”
Hiring managers are sometimes so impressed after seeing someone with excellent technique that they are ready to dismiss deficiencies, such as a poor personality. Use questions designed by a talent-profiling company to assess applicants' service orientation.
"What you are really looking for is people who can adjust themselves to the personality of the guest," said Solomon. "Everyone should be able to deal with someone who is depressed or with the no-nonsense businesswoman."
Consider outsourcing to a call center.
"As soon as the telephone rings three times, you are beginning to build distrust in your callers," said Leonardo Inghilleri, co-author of Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization. "If you don't answer the phone promptly, I don't know what you can do well. Your hold time—no more than 30 seconds. Abandoned calls—the moment you hit 10 percent, you are losing business."
Make lists of phrases deemed acceptable and—more important—unacceptable. Every business must adopt its own "style of service."
Consistent service is, by definition, repetitious. Do the right thing. Then do it again, ad infinitum. To buoy enthusiasm, do morning pep talks. During those five-minute gatherings, managers should alert staff to appointments, as well as customers prepping for big events. Maybe break the talks into principles—such as the importance of a warm greeting, timeliness, or escorting customers. "Every day, you give people something a little different to focus on," Inghilleri said.
Append short surveys to receipts. To help improve the response rate, use the strategy of making a small donation to a charity for every survey completed.
It should start with an overall rating, followed by a drill-down into specific aspects of the visit. "Start out with the two questions that really matter: Will you come back? and Will you refer your friends?" said Solomon. A rating is also a defense against attacks on sites like Yelp. The ability to assert, "On a scale of 1 to 5, 97 percent of customers gave us a 5" is powerful ammunition.
Resolving customer complaints is among the best ways to earn loyalty. Lengthy apologies give customers the chance to connect emotionally. Inghilleri observed that money is not always the best remedy. Particularly for customers who are not buying on price, he said, companies should consider a thoughtful present or service.
"Make sure the last moment they are with you is not the signing of a bill," Inghilleri said. "What you want them to remember is people thanking them for coming and saying, 'We look forward to seeing you again.' "
"If you eliminate the face-to-face checkout, that's one less opportunity to pick up on problems," said Solomon.