For 10+ years in retail I was forced to constantly make changes in how we treated our customers. That meant hours of soul searching and looking in the mirror. My least favorite part was firing people that just did not have the ability to do the job. It’s tough because the bigger you get, it becomes harder to have that consistentcy. My favorite part though was knowing that we had customers, friends and family that cared enough about us to let us know when we were making mistakes. I actually started giving out $100 gift certificates whenever someone would give me negative feedback. Not to make them happy due to a bad experience, but to show them how open we were to making their visit with our store PERFECT. Just when I thought companies where turning the corner and making strides in customer service it happened to ME and by MY CUSTOMER! In retail there is 1 rule to live by, “THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT!” With the exception of crazy customers, vulgar language and abuse, the customer is ALWAYS right. It’s not that hard, your job is to over deliver and make your customers happy.
Here’s the story. We had a client in the restaurant business that we were helping with their marketing. My family had been a long time customer. In the past year the service had progressively gotten worse. In the past 3 months I had many conversations with the owner to let him know how much we loved their food and the atmosphere but that he really needed to address the staff’s customer service. I don’t claim to be an expert at many things, but with 10+ years of retail experience and the fact that I eat out 10-15 times per week (for over 15 years), I think I’m pretty well equipped to judge a restaurant. You name it and I had experienced it here and I let the owner know privately and professionally. I want nothing but them to succeed. He always had an open ear and seemed to listen, but not many changes were ever made, only excuses. In retail there are WAY too many choices, so if you don’t take great care of people they will simply go somewhere else.
So in the past month we had a few really bad experiences, the basics of customer service were being completely ignored. Typically my customers and their employees treat us great and usually (though not necessary) go overboard. They not only realize we are a customer, but that we also have the ear of the owner and we’re watching to make sure they’re at their best. I’ve been to this restaurant many times in the past year and everything that had happened to us was happening to many customers. It was a common occurrence from my observations. I finally had enough. I prepared a well thought out email and sent it to the owner basically saying that we loved him, the company and the products but he really needed to address these issues or we were going to stop working with them. I did not like what was happening and I simply could not put our reputation on the line. What did I get in return??? Finger pointing, excuses and a really negative tone. So with that, we are onto the next of 100 restaurants within a few miles of our home.
Recently I was at a business seminar where the speaker hit the nail on the head with his presentation. He was talking about advertising and customer service. He mentioned a few examples of how companies had great advertising, but when you went into their stores the experience did not reflect what the company had portrayed in their commercials. Simply put their sales staffs were terrible. Service was sub-par and he went somewhere else. His point was that many companies need to focus on what they are doing everyday in front of the customer, instead of creating fancy ads.
I had to write this because I am passionate about small businesses. I love locally owned companies. They can act swift to make changes. They have their ear to the ground and are always tweaking their processes to make the experience better. So this really hit home and I am really at a loss for words. I hope this company sees the light and makes some changes. They have great products and a great brand, but that may not last. The bad part about retail, you don’t get 2nd chances to earn a customer’s trust.
Matt Plapp is a the President of Driven Media Solutions, a Full Service Marketing Firm in the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky area specializing in small business marketing via grass-roots, events, guerrilla, online and social media marketing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.