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Is your customer service working for your competitor? If you're making this mistake...

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rogue synthetic

Gold Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Speedway Pass
Aug 2, 2017
...then you can probably say "yes".

Earlier today I had two remarkable customer service experiences.

One of them isn't the kind of remarkable you want to brag to your friends about. The other one, it was just about perfect. Like night and day, all in the space of about 10 minutes.

Let's back up a little bit.

This afternoon I walked down to the local shopping center to get an ID photo taken. To paint a picture, this is a 'trendy' part of town. Rows of shops, mostly higher-end stuff but not quite the highest of end. Think upper-end of the next tier down. Classy, but they've got some friends in low places.

I get down there and see the photo shop I was after. I won't name them but you'd all know them as a once dominant, now fading star in the camera and film world.

I walk in and it's a ghost town. No, not quite empty, I see a lady standing at the counter. On this side of the counter, so I'm not exactly sure if she works there. Tapping away at her phone.

She looks up from her iFriend, makes eye contact, goes back to tap tap a-tapping without a word.

Nobody else around.

I'm wondering if I'm intruding on an intimate moment. I'm wondering, does she work here? Is she waiting on the clerk out the back?

I hang out for a couple of minutes. Browse the wares.

No signs of life, so screw it, I'm out.

(Disclaimer: she may not have actually worked there, but I'm a stereotyping bigot, so I don't expect that young twenty-something blondes hang around in musty camera shops to play on the phone for free.)

Usually I'd fume about this and write a REALLY MEAN letter to the owner. I didn't this time, and I'll tell you why in a second.

Before going there, let's talk about the good remarkable. There's a post office right down the road, maybe 100 yards away. I needed something from them anyway, and since I'm walking that way I figure I'll drop in on the way home.

I don't know what post offices are like up in the States these days, but down here they've gotten pretty classy.

I walk in the door and, oh hey, they do ID photos here! Nice, that saves me a trip. I grab the package I need, head to the counter where a friendly clerk asks me how my day has been.

I ask her if I can get the photo done. "Sure, let's go get that done first!" Not even 3 minutes later I had printed copies, a digital copy emailed to me, my stuff was paid for, with an extra upgrade I didn't even think about, and I'm walking out the door wondering what the hell just happened.

In a good way, obviously.

I took some notes on what she did because it was one of the best retail executions I've run into lately.

* The transaction itself was a breeze. I know some of this is good timing, since I hit during the afternoon hours so there was no line, but dammit it is AMAZING to go straight to the counter and get what you want without waiting. I don't know about you, but I live in a big overcrowded city where you wait for EVERYTHING.

Not having to wait is platinum-tier service. Not having to wait because some bozo won't stop texting shouldn't be a premium.

* This clerk was an upsell queen. There was no part of this transaction where she didn't have an upgrade to offer, and it wasn't even pushy, it was all stuff I could or did need.

* That nice trick to grab my email address by emailing me the digital copy. Gold.

* Staff who are actually courteous, informed, and attentive. You don't realize how important this is until you DON'T get it. As I've gotten older and less of a cheapskate, I'm willing to spend more and hit higher-class joints just for this.

Now I'm not one to walk away from a bad experience without learning something from it. What can we learn from my first ill-fated choice?

If you're letting customer-facing staff keep phones on the clock, you're paying them to advertise for your competitors who don't.

I know, I know, YOUR employees would never... No, they do. No, they aren't different.

I'm getting more hermit-like with each year so I'm not out so much these days, but I swear 7 or 8 times out of 10 I go into a shop or restaurant I'm watching rapid tapping while a phone vanishes... if I'm lucky.

A few months ago I went out to a hamburger joint and didn't even get that much consideration. I went to the counter, and the guy back in the kitchen greeted me warmly and explained he'd be with me in just a moment as he finished up his chat for another 60-plus seconds.

The burger was pretty good.

Do you think I've been back since?

Do you think I've recommended them as a burger joint?

Do you think burger joints have come up in conversation without that story popping into my head and commanding me to tell it?

Now, hey, maybe she didn't even work there, so why so harsh?

Well maybe she didn't. The point is, nobody else was there, and nobody bothered to check on the floor in all the time I waited. I realize retail can get busy, but when you've got at most one customer? And in over five minutes you don't bother to check the floor while the store is wide open?

Jeeze, I could have stocked up on some last-minute eBay arbitrage if it was going to be that easy.

One piddling $20-30 transaction may not sound like a big deal. Don't be fooled. This cost them WAY more than 20 bucks. Not only will I not be going back there, or recommend them to anyone else, but I'll go out of my way to warn people off.

That shop-girl's important text message cost that shop today's transaction, whatever lifetime value they might have got out of me, and all the LTV they could have gotten from whatever my referral business was worth.

Who else has this happened to today? Yesterday? Last week?


There is a big gap in staff quality between the businesses that position themselves as high-end and those that don't seem to know or care about this.

If you take even basic steps to take care of your customers, you'll be ahead of 95% of everybody else out there. Maybe 99%.

It's easy stuff, folks. Say hi, and mean it! Smile. Have some processes in place.

Train your staff. If you hire shifty millennials, train them and give them some purpose.

Yeah, it's a boring retail gig. Funny how the high-end shops don't have this problem.

I bought a suit a couple of weeks ago and got the concierge treatment. Informed staff helping me out on all the clothes-crap I don't know anything about. Helpful non-pushy upselling. If it hadn't been 10am I'd have had one of the beers they had in the fridge.

Retail staff, younger millennials, mind you. It was an excellent experience, will shop there again, and will recommend.

What are you doing about this with your staff?

If you don't have a staff, how are you personally handling your customers and clients?

I said before that I didn't write a nasty letter to the owner. In a past life I'd have been all over this. Not this time.

Here's why:

Social media makes for cheap promises.

The owner is all set up with the right stuff, the Facebook pages, the Yelp page, the Google Business... and he does everything BUT the one thing that matters.

It would have cost him virtually nothing to make it right with that last customer. He could have given her a free do-over, or even better, some BIG "we're sorry" bonus to show he meant it.

It would have earned him back a LOT of good will. With this one customer. With ME, because I WOULD have had a word with him if I saw that he was interested.

What did he do? He went off with some corporate-speak boilerplate about "always improving our customer service".

He's not improving anything and everybody involved in this knows it.

My experience this afternoon proved it.

There's no reason for me to complain or even leave a negative review. He doesn't care. He won't do anything about it.

Call this 'reverse social proof'. Enough people are saying the same thing that it might as well be the truth.

It's insincere. It's inauthentic. The owners look like liars.

The post office actually took care of me. They had everything I needed, and went out of the way to make sure I got it.

They don't need a Facebook page to make empty promises or talk about "their commitment" to whatever. They proved it to me.

Here's some takeaways:

1. Take care of your customers.

2. I'm serious. Make your customer care a priority for yourself and your team if you have one.

3. Learn the art of email collection. Make sure your staff is coached on how to do this.

4. Learn the art of up-selling and cross-selling. Make sure your staff is coached on how to do this.

5. All the social media and email marketing in the world doesn't mean a thing if you don't please the customer and keep them coming back. I know I used to think this: just get them in the door. Get that Facebook page and Twitter account, then... something something... profit. NOPE.

6. If you ever feel like saying "This market is overcrowded" or "Our product is a commodity, there's no way to stand out", well, here's one way to stand out: TAKE CARE OF YOUR CUSTOMERS.

Take one more look at those reviews and the owner's reply. Look at it, then close your eyes and imagine the most opposite possible way for you to respond. That's what you do.


All Cars Kneel Before Pagani.
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Speedway Pass
Sep 3, 2017
But how would one supervise the retail staff, assuming the owner (could be me or you) can't be in the shop the whole day?

It seems retail staff are a hit or miss. If you happen to hire the right one, good for you (but this is rare).

I never shop in a shop with millennial staff unless I need something urgently.

Walter Hay

Legendary Contributor
Speedway Pass
Sep 13, 2014
World citizen
But how would one supervise the retail staff, assuming the owner (could be me or you) can't be in the shop the whole day?

It seems retail staff are a hit or miss. If you happen to hire the right one, good for you (but this is rare).

I never shop in a shop with millennial staff unless I need something urgently.
You could try using a mystery shopper. You could even tell your staff that you are doing that, so you don't need to actually pay a mystery shopper. Just knowing (thinking) that their service attitude could be checked could keep them on the ball.

The same strategy can work with Chinese manufacturers when you tell them you are hiring a quality inspection service.


rogue synthetic

Gold Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Speedway Pass
Aug 2, 2017
But how would one supervise the retail staff, assuming the owner (could be me or you) can't be in the shop the whole day?

It seems retail staff are a hit or miss. If you happen to hire the right one, good for you (but this is rare).

I never shop in a shop with millennial staff unless I need something urgently.

It's a good question.

I like @Walter Hay 's suggestion. I've been on the (wrong side) of the mystery shopper when I worked in retail as a shifty college student many years ago. If nothing else you'll see who is and isn't trying.

Dan Kennedy recommends the pitiless use of surveillance cameras and other monitoring systems, reviewed regularly. Pretty draconian stuff.

One issue which has struck me from talking to Kiwi business owners is that there's a lot of blame on labor supply and on employment law. Meaning, good workers are hard to come by, and difficult to get rid of once you've brought them on.

No doubt, you'll find bad apples. I do think that the culture has something to do with it as well. You don't have to be there 24/7 in order to have training in place, to set a feel for the workplace, what's expected, what's frowned on.

I keep coming back to the high-end stores. Maybe they just don't put up with sloppiness. Or maybe the owners or whoever does the managing have some excellent training and culture-building processes along with keeping tabs on how it's all working.

Reading between the lines with those same business owners, I also get the impression there's a certain laziness, even some lack of of spine, going on there as well. Meaning, they don't want to spend the time building a culture, or they don't realize it's something worth doing.

It's easier to blame bad workers... after giving them minimal training and setting no expectations. It's easy to 'keep giving chances' to a continual problem instead of ponying up with the disciplinary actions and getting rid of them if necessary. Confrontation is scary!

I don't know if any of this generalizes, but from some of the stories I've read around here it seems pretty familiar.

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