• Jade Ficarra

The Importance Of Customer Service In The Digital Age

Our business is in the business of helping businesses. With regard to digital communication, marketing, social media and ways to overcome such hurdles, particularly for retailers, as E Commerce.

Our first rule of thumb, and something we are always telling small business owners is that there is absolutely NO REASON whatsoever that any person needs to walk into your shop anymore. In the 21t century, we can buy EVERYTHING online. Everything. We can even do our groceries online. We can get our shoes, clothes, technology, jewellery, office supplies, stationery EVERYTHING that your business offers, can be bought online, and sometimes at a significant discount.

So, with that in mind, as a small business with a shop front, you need to give your customers a reason to walk through those doors, and that reason above all else is exceptional customer service! Social media and digital communication is a helpful vehicle to drive people to your door, but once they’re there, our job is done and it’s up to you & your staff to make magic happen.

Some of us pre Generation Y still like a little human interaction and a website does not have a lovely retailer who can answer questions, make suggestions and small talk, but you do. You have the ability to build rapport & relationships with your customers above and beyond any website. However, if you fail to do this, believe me, you will lose customers, and you will not ever get them back, because in this digital age, if I get rude service, I have not the time nor the patience to deal with that, I will buy it online.

Being in the business of helping businesses, we like to shop local & at independently owned business for everything, (local being our service area from Mildura to Yarrawonga) and I do mean this. Just in the last month a new car has been bought from Markwell’s Auto Group, clothes from Fashion Affair, shoes from Northern Shoe Store, engagement presents from Kennedy’s Showcase, a watch from Burrows Showcase, we’ve eaten at Seasons and Quo Vadis, and we even do our groceries at Fishers. But yesterday I had an experience in Swan Hill that shocked me. It shocked me to the point where this locally owned and operated business has lost me and my family and it will take a lot to get us back.

I won’t name the business but I will give you a detailed synopsis of what occurred.

My partner is a farm boy. He likes it on the farm, and apart from football, doesn’t really have much cause to leave the farm, but when he wants to shop, he wants to shop without boundaries, and he also likes to shop local.

He had a list of needs & wants when we came to Swan Hill over the weekend which included such items like a new winter coat, Converse shoes for the kids, new Adidas trackies and a new hoodie. I’m a woman, so I was shopping for anything that looked good on the day.

We walked into said business at 12:30, and whilst we both thought it was open until 3pm on Saturday’s but I was soon to realise that indeed wasn’t the case.

As our young family of five walked in the doors we were not pleasantly greeted by the sales staff at all, we were in fact befuddled by their conduct. There were three “sales people” and I use that term very loosely as they did not try to sell anything, they were merely glorified checkout staff

Our first impressions of walking in this store were of the “sales people” huddled behind the desk talking amongst themselves. Oh they did stop talking amongst themselves, to give us a glaring stare and silently judge us as we walked into their otherwise quiet store.

I asked Luke if he got the same impression which he said he did but it didn’t bother him, as rude sales staff and poor customer service rarely does. Let’s face it, if he were any more relaxed he’d be in a coma, so I brushed it off and went about looking at big brand, high priced athletic wear.

Now, in any normal store the initial judgement of us when we walked in, along with the area of the store we were shopping in would tell any normal and qualified salesperson that we are there to shop and spend money on big ticket items. Granted you can never judge a book by its cover, but you don’t have to be a forensic investigator to discover that there was a sale to be made. We should have looked like money, but instead, it became apparent that we simply looked like an inconvenience.

After Luke had found his trackies and a new hoodie, I had found a new puffer vest, and was looking through their new range of R.M Williams & Thomas Cook clothing with full intent on parting with more of my hard earned as I was approached by a small staff member who tried to get all up in my face with the authority of a German soldier to tell me that they were closing the doors in two minutes. She did this with the complete “V” finger gestures to really drive the fact home that we had to leave and leave now!

Now I’m sorry, but when a sale walks into your store, even if it is closing time, unless you have life saving surgery locked into your schedule, you can manage to keep the doors open until you have closed the sale, maybe even up sold, and added on. You do NOT push those dollars out the door never to return.

Granted, I was looking for a particular style of something I’d seen which was obviously out of place on another rack, but I wanted it in a different size. I should be able to seek assistance and get it with with a smile, even if you are running late to watch your grandkids play netball. Complain to your friends about it later, just try to sell or at the very least, serve! You’re in a retail business for goodness sake, if you don’t like people, don’t work in retail.

It certainly didn’t end there though. I turned to ever laidback Luke and exclaimed “Is she kidding? They want us out by the looks!”

He actually had raised eyebrows and with disbelief on his face just uttered “Wow!”

Wow indeed.

By this point, my blood was boiling. I had to give all purchases to Luke to take to the counter before my quickly wearing thin patience ran out and my distain and frustration became unravlled in a glorious eruption of lady crazy!

I grabbed the older kids and motioned for them to come outside with me before I lost it and left Luke to finish the transaction.

When he walked out of the store and reached me, he, who never ever gets upset with poor service exclaimed with sincere surprise and shock “Well, they’ve just lost me!”

When he told me why, I didn’t blame him, and am now of the same opinion.

When he took our purchases up to the counter (which were in excess of $100, not high rollers, but it could have been more if I was allowed to browse a little longer) he was not greeted with friendly smiling service, and in fact up to this point we still had not even received a token greeting from any of the staff members.

Instead the total was rung up on the register, he was handed a bag with the token “have a nice day!” Then without skipping a beat our little German soldier friend yells to her minions like they were on the battle front, “Righto ladies lock the doors!”

I shall say it again. There is absolutely no reason at all we need to walk into that store. Everything that is sold in there I can get at either a nationally owned chain, or online, and from now on, that is where I shall buy it because it is clear that customers in their store is nothing more than an inconvenience.

Well ladies, you shall have no more inconveniences in your life when your store closes, and of course you shall go on to blame one of those larger national chains, when in fact, you have quite literally pushed all of your paying customers through their doors!

Now I would be surprised if any single one of those staff members have ever had any retail training. It certainly wasn’t apparent that they had, but with attitudes like that, you could be forgiven for thinking that they wouldn’t be able to take instruction from anyone anyway. They clearly know what they’re doing. WRONG. Chain stores get training, true, but Swan Hill Inc are forever putting on training sessions, seminars etc to help improve the customer service in Swan Hill, and it seems that it is high time more retailers and hospitality operators started attending these sessions.

I’ve had comments in the past from clients in Mildura and other parts of the state about the horrendous service they have been given in Swan Hill and I’ve always backed businesses in and defended them 200%. Even after some clients were looking to open a business in Swan Hill and decided against it after visiting for a weekend and receiving bad service at several retailers and hospitality operators. Again, I defended my home town and the business people in it, but now I see that they have a point. If I were a tourist visiting Swan Hill for the first time and received that treatment it would leave a sour taste in my mouth and I would not be inclined to visit the region again, much less that business. Do you see the flow on effect yet?

Now this is not a piece to go in an bat for Swan Hill Inc, but as a ratepayer, we are all making a contribution to this organisation to provide services and skill improvement to better the community as a whole and it appears that some business owners still aren’t getting the message. You need help. You NEVER stop learning. Training for your staff is a good thing, a necessary thing, and without it you will lose customers, and bring negativity to the whole region if visitors are treated this way.

Another thing I tell all of my clients these days, is that talk about your business is no longer confined to dinner table conversation, it’s not just between you, me and the lamp post. It is between you, me, your business and 60 billion of my closest friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tripadvisor, Instagram, Google+ and any other social media channel that encourages people to review because believe me, we will and we do review your business and what are people itching to write about first and foremost? The bad experiences.

The proof is in the pudding with this blog. I needed to let you know. I needed to get it off my chest. I needed to warn other businesses about the power of bad, but also the power of good.

Granted on this same shopping trip and in the same week, I walked into three other local businesses and literally was able to just say to the sales staff I am looking for X Y & Z, what have you go that will suit me, fit me, or fit the kids. That is the beauty of shopping locally with people who are passionate about what they do.

These businesses couldn’t do enough to help me. They knew their product and they knew me well enough to just float happily around the store pulling our pieces they thought I’d like, and it worked it’s butt off. Even when we purchased our new car, the sales people didn’t try to upsell me at all. In fact, I had full intention of buying a Mercedes, but they talked me out of it after listening to our lifestyle, where we lived, and what we needed. That, to me is exceptional service. Actually listening to someone’s needs, wants and backstory to come up with the perfect solution. I am now converted to not only a bloody Toyota, but I’m a Markwell’s Auto Group customer for life because of the exceptional service.

In these businesses I couldn’t be happier to part with my cash, even though I could probably get it cheaper elsewhere - I’m not getting the service that I like, and heaven forbid, I still quite like human interaction. Many of us do. And let’s face it, as far as marketing dollars are concerned, it is far more cost effective to retain your current customers than it is to win new ones.

So, when someone walks into your store, are you going to give them a reason to stay & return, or will you give them every reason to leave and never return.

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