June 24, 2007

One Simple Step for Better Customer Service
The Gollum sells razors

I have written a few times about the decline of Western Civilization, I mean the decline of customer service. It’s an uphill battle. Companies create silos so that one part of the organization works independently of another part (even though the customer’s wellbeing is tied to a unified approach). Representatives either connect you to another division or simply state: “That’s not my problem,” leaving the consumer to fend for themselves.

Knowing that I cannot win by debating store managers in the cereal aisle I have decided to make it easy. Here is one simple rule that would improve customer service immediately and without major organizational restructuring or monumental shifts in corporate culture:

Make it easy for the customer to solve his problem by taking immediate responsibility.

Recently I tried to purchase Gilette Mach 3 razor blades at my local CVS drug store. But because of shoplifting these little and expensive necessities are housed in locked point-of-purchase display units. I thought I was in luck when, standing right next to me was a CVS employee. I asked if he could unlock the drawer. He pointed to the manager standing down the aisle and behind the counter and said, “He’s got the key. You will have to ask him.” Badda boom.

What he should have been trained to say is: “Let me get the manager to assist you.” Companies should train their employees to take that last step to solve the problem. Don’t make the consumer do it.

The very next day I was in my local Giant supermarket looking for a particular product. Let’s just say that my family loves this product (ok, it’s the chunky hummus made by Sabra). All of a sudden the store no longer carries this variety. They carry other Sabra hummus flavors but not this one.

I happened to run into the manager of the store along with one of his workers and I asked him about it. His worker said they were no longer going to carry the chunky flavor. When I kindly told the manager that we often become loyal customers of a particular product, only to find they no longer carry the item, he replied: “This is not my decision.”

I know that shelf real estate is big business. With zillions of products and not enough space for all of them on store shelves there is a constant cycle of products available to consumers. I told the manager I knew he didn’t make the decision (and that, Mr. President of any big corporation is a problem in itself: give power on the local level). But, instead of admitting his powerlessness, he should have said “Give me your name and phone number. I will call the buyer and see what we can do.” By taking immediate responsibility instead of readily admitting to his company’s shortcomings, he would have made me feel good and conveyed his company in a positive light. It is bad business for the customer and conveys a poor vision of the company when your frontline representatives treat customers this way. Even if his call to the higher ups yielded nothing, his desire to help me would have been good customer service.

This shift in storefront culture doesn’t need top level approval. Any worker can apply this rule. However, corporate officers should take note if they want to remain competitive and retain or increase their market share. It didn’t surprise me when I read the very next day that Giant’s market share was declining. Add one more family to that stat.

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