Taking Care of the Customer

I find it interesting how you can gathernepotism a group of retailers and ask how many believe they give great customer service. Almost always the result is a unanimous yes. Follow up this question by asking if they have an ongoing educational program for their employees and the answer is unanimous again— no. That begs a third question: How do you give great customer service if you are not teaching it?

Last month I talked about what good customer service looks like and its importance to your store. This month we’ll talk about teaching it. Because the best investment you can make in your business this year is to create and maintain an ongoing staff education program. Creating one can be rewarding when you follow this seven-step process.

Begin by writing yourself a letter stating why you are doing this and what you expect to get from it. Make no apology for expecting your business to operate flawlessly and wanting your customers to have a wonderful experience; an experience in which they begin to become strong and vocal advocates of your store to their friends, neighbors and coworkers.

Speak with those individuals within your business who will support your endeavor. Explain what you plan to do and ask for their support and encouragement of their co-workers. When you schedule your first class, do so with the intention of being consistent with the day and time of the class. Since customer service extends beyond the sales floor, every employee should participate. I found that a weekday evening, after hours, worked best. The class should be no longer than an hour.

Create a schedule that will outline the next six months of classes and what you want to accomplish in each class. Post this so that all of your employees can see it. This is done so they understand you have put a lot of time and effort into the classes; they are not just thrown together at the last-minute with you talking about whatever comes to mind.

Create a written guideline for each class. It does not need to be any longer than one page. Adding your logo and other branding emblems on the document helps to make it look official. During the hour, the majority of the time should be spent on a topic that is either sales or product oriented. The remaining time should be spent in, or reviewing, the guidelines you have created for your business. This would include job descriptions (the what to do), job specifications (the how to do), policies (rules for ourselves) and procedures (how to do things for customers). Notice there is no mention of a customer-service policy. This is because, if you’ll notice, most retailers’ customer service policies are really thinly veiled rules for the customers. If your employees know their job descriptions, job specifications, policies and procedures, they’ll be giving great customer service.

With each class, there should be a written test given to each employee. The test is an assessment of their ability to retain what has been taught. The test in our business consisted of 10 questions with nine relating to the bulk of the class and the last question relevant to the remainder of the class. Staff had 48 hours to complete the test and hand it in to the teacher for grading. Those who answered nine or 10 questions correctly received a small gift card to another independent and locally owned business as a reward.

Speaking of the teacher, this is not a responsibility that should remain with the owner or manager of the store. Instead, after completing a couple of months of classes, the assignment of teacher should be passed around to include everyone. This is done for several reasons. One is that it helps everyone see the importance of and effort necessary for creating a class. It also requires each employee to develop multiple areas within the business in which they are an expert. When your staff learns and appreciates other roles beyond the one they have, your store becomes stronger. With the schedule mentioned in step 3, have employees sign up for the classes they are going to teach. Require them to share with you, a couple of months in advance, what they have researched and prepared for class.

As the class continues through the year, you will find the opportunity and need to develop new topics for the business as well as the desire to take certain topics to a higher level of competency or include new information about the products or services you are offering.

Some people believe that seven is a lucky number. Without discussing the superstition of this belief, we can assure that following these seven steps can make a big difference in your business for 2015.

Research shows multiple reasons for this—from studies conducted by the American Management Association to those from the Harvard School of Business, many things from productivity to profitability and employee retention which you can learn more about with further business protection advice, all show sizable improvement because a business made a commitment to an ongoing staff education program. It has worked for others, and it can work for you.

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