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Soul Of Exceptional Customer Service

Furniture World Magazine


Subservience to role alone will fail, while focusing on the ultimate goal will result in true customer service!

Recently while I was giving some thought to the distinction between the words role and goal, I suddenly realized something that I consider essential to understanding the true nature of customer service. Role, it is said, concerns itself with process; goal, with the ultimate aim of that process. For example, on a professional baseball team in both the American and the National Baseball Leagues each player has his own role with its own specific process. in turn, each of these processes is specifically different, in fact, uniquely different. On the other hand, the ultimate goal of the players as a whole remains the some: to win the World Series.

How does this relate to customer service? Let's take a look at that. Retail furniture stores are generally made up of people who have been assigned roles as specifically different as those on a baseball team, as, for example, the roles of owners, managers, buyers, merchandisers, displayers, receptionists, etc.. In some stores there are also cleaning and maintenance personnel. In some rural and smaller city stores, some individuals often play several roles. At different times they alternate as salespeople, carpet layers, deliverymen, and repairmen. In one Minnesota store I'm acquainted with, in addition to performing his normal duties, the storeowner does some selling, some carpet laying, and some delivering of furniture. Yet, despite these different roles, all those who work in a given company have the some ultimate goal: to help the customer not only make the best possible buying decision but also to help win the customer for life. That really is the central message of Michael Le Boeuf's book, "How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life."

Any retail furniture store that does not enjoy a reputation for exceptional service among its customers - and Is aware of that- should do some serious self ­ examination. Every one in the company must understand that while each specific role may be different, each person's ultimate goal in the company is exactly the same. The fact that one or two of its departments may be offering exceptional customer service will not assure a company an overall reputation for exceptional service. It's not enough for a company to put all of its customer service eggs in one or two baskets. In other words, a reputation for exceptional customer service is absolutely dependent upon company-wide customer service.

A company that entrusts its customer service to one or two of its departments is as likely to be successful as the state of Minnesota would be if it were to entrust the preservation of its lakes, rivers, streams and forests to a limited number of game wardens and forest rangers. Only the statewide education and training of everyone can bring about the kind of consciousness required to keep the state's waterways clean and its forests preserved.

The same holds true for exceptional customer service. It must start and then endlessly continue with training and education aimed at developing a company-wide consciousness about the absolute need for exceptional customer service. It is that same company-wide consciousness that ultimately accounts for what we call a good working climate. Such a working climate can only come about if the following factors are in place:

  • Owners and upper management must buy into Karl Albrecht's thesis that no company can reasonably hope to treat Its customers better than it treats its own workers and no better than its personnel at large treat one another.
  • Exceptional customer service must be a company-wide effort.
  • A company that entrusts its reputation for service to its customer service department alone is doomed to failure.
  • Total customer service rests on a company-wide attitude of caring for the customer. This attitude is not likely to develop unless ongoing company-wide training and education is in place. Every employee must view him or herself as a true service professional.
  • Smiles alone won't do it. The proper systems must be in place and observed. Each store employee must perform his or her job to the best of their ability.
  • As important as role performance is, it must be perceived by all as a means to an end and not as an end in itself. In other words, role should be subservient to the ultimate goal of a company, which is exceptional customer service. Without this goal, a company cannot realize its maximum profitability.
  • Job descriptions relate to roles; mission statements to the ultimate goal everyone in the company has, namely, to provide customers with exceptional service.
  • The sure sign of a good working climate is the frequent practice of crediting people for work well done. Proper crediting calls for three steps. First, refer to the specific job done that merits crediting. Two, mention the virtue it took to do such meritorious work, such as, patience, perseverance, attention to detail, accuracy, precision, and so on. Three, point to those who have benefited by this person's meritorious performance.
  • Another sure sign of a good working climate is a workplace in which active listening is practiced by managers and co-workers.
  • The proper working climate will not develop through mere slogans hung throughout the company walls, nor through warnings like those too frequently posted in cafeterias and lunch rooms with words like " Your mother's not here to clean up after you, so you'd better start doing your own cleaning."
  • A good working climate will not develop in those companies in which coworkers do not have a feeling of belonging. The yearning to belong is linked to what psychologist Alfred Adler referred to as our most basic human need, namely, to strive for significance.
  • All companies might find inspiration and enlightenment in part of the title of Hal Rosenbluth's book, "The Customer Comes Second..." The thesis of that book is that no company can reasonably expect to put its buying customers first until it puts its internal customers first.
  • No manager can properly manage who does not see his or her role as one of service. Like people, workers are motivated by example much more than by words. The greater the spirit of service throughout the company, the greater the likelihood for exceptional customer service.
  • Every company should look upon customer service not as a destination to be reached but as a never-ending journey. There are simply too many "moments of truth" to think that one has ever finally arrived at this thing called customer service. Contacts with the customer, be they direct or indirect, thankfully never come to a halting end. Furthermore, NON PROGREDI EST REGREDI, that is, not to go forward is to go backward.
  • While exceptional customer service does more for the company's bottom line than anything else does, it is not this result that motivates co-workers most. Their major motivator is the prerequisite good working climate without which company-wide exceptional customer service is just not possible. Within that good working climate all employees can find the motivation to do the kind of work that leads to a sense of personal accomplishment, growth and development.
  • Finally, let us add that within every company another Nordstrom waits for those who are willing to put in the effort. The cheaters work from molds; the masters carve and sculpt in the full knowledge that subservience to role alone will fail, while focusing on the ultimate goal will result in true customer service.

Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at pmarino@furninfo.com.