The Vital Importance Of Customer Service Professionals!
Welcome to the third in our multi-part series of articles published through the Bike Profits Newsletter focusing on practical How-To ideas needed to implement the changes you make in your retail store strategies, policies and process to grow your business.
The foundation for this series of tactical or How-To articles is "What Does Growing Your Business Mean?" the article that established the five ways to grow your business, and the three over-arching changes that you will have to adopt to make the five ways work most effectively for your business growth. If you have not read this article, please see the Recent blog posts listed on the right.
Part 1 in this series presented the huge and immediate opportunity that baby boomers, and in particular women, between the ages of 44 and 62 represent for bike shops. We also pointed out that each individual bike shop has the ability to make itself relevant and raise awareness in its local market space - and do so within its current and available budget, and without any help from the national brands.
Part 2 underscored the results of recent industry research that confirms that we have actually intimidated and turned-off a whole bunch of consumers, including baby boomers, who are reluctant, or flat won't shop at a bike shop. The sea of wheels display and merchandising philosophy was pointed out as being particularly intimidating and confusing to adults who don't currently ride a bicycle.
The importance of making it easy to shop your store and simple to purchase a bicycle from you was also highlighted in Part 2, along with a suggested strategy for your bicycle merchandise selection. Lifestyle displays were also suggested, along with hiring customer service naturals (CSNs) that are your target market or markets, and using greeters, particularly on busy weekends.
"Explain Best Buy?" A good place to start this third installment is feed back from Ralph (I have not received permission to use Ralph's full name or store name) who responded to last weeks Part 2 with:
"Thank you for the great article. I want to take exception or more precisely ask the question: In regard to merchandise selection and you[r] recommendation to do a good, better, best and reduce the number of bikes offered and shown, how do you explain Best Buy?
"Best Buy displays almost every model of every brand of digital cameras for example. I don't think they dumb it down at all for the customer and they are thriving because they have more selection than anyone else. I personally would be afraid to make too many choices for my customers, since they have so many influences; Internet, magazines, etc before they walk in the door. I think instead of dumbing it down, I need to employ customer service professionals that can interview the customer and lead them to the product solutions that fit them the best." (Emphasis added.)
My response to Ralph started with: "Your idea of employing and educating customer service professionals who can interview and guide your customers to an individual lifestyle solution is right on the money - and also explains a lot about Best Buy!"
Having recently purchased a digital video camera from Best Buy, I could relate the very satisfactory shopping experience of being served by one of their customer service professionals.
I ended my response to Ralph with: "The National Retail Federation did a study last year that proved that if there are two - for example - bike shops right across the street from each other, the one with the best, or highest level of customer service will achieve up to 40% higher revenue than the competitor across the street!"
There is no question that superior customer service trumps just about everything else in an excellent shopping experience, and a broad selection of merchandise can be expertly demonstrated and explained by a customer service professional...and that, as I personally experienced and responded to Ralph, explains a lot about Best Buy.
In our worst case scenario many bike shops have combined intimidating, confusing displays of bicycles with sub-par customer service, and in so doing have turned off a high proportion of non-cyclists among the baby boom generation.
I mixed several issues in to the "...sea of wheels" presentation last week. First, too many bike shops have created what is repeatedly described in the research as an intimidating shopping environment by basically non-cyclists who are interested in getting back on a bicycle.
Next, remember, we are developing the tactics to support growth strategies for your business, and if you are confident you can grow without attracting and selling more bicycles to non-cyclists, primarily from the baby boom generation - that is OK, but a logical, well thought out and executed display of bicycles will be a plus no matter what your growth strategy is...because making it easy to shop your store and simple to purchase a bicycle is just good business.
Also, the merchandise selection issue goes directly to the previous point, and if you can tactically reduce 20-percent of your bicycle stock keeping units (SKUs) without sacrificing your ability to service all of your shoppers and customers, and make it easier and simpler for your staff to sell and for your customers to buy - you will create a win-win strategy.
Finally, introducing lifestyle displays to your merchandising allows you and your staff to suggest and create individual lifestyle solutions for your customers!
Employ customer service naturals (CSNs). This circles right back to Ralph's right-on the money conclusion that: "I need to employ customer service professionals that can interview the customer and lead them to the product solutions that fit them the best."
What is a customer service natural? I will bet that you have an employee, or have had an employee that is friendly and cheerful and positive most, if not all the time, and who drops everything to greet and serve shoppers who come into your store.
This same person asks shoppers questions about what they want and need, and what their expectations are from the product or service they are shopping for - and they listen, sincerely and patiently to the responses shoppers give them. They also make recommendations that are tailored to the individual customers wants, needs and expectations - and they are not at all hesitant to ask you or other members of the staff to answer a question from a customer that they do not know the answer to.
What Ralph, and I have both described is a customer service natural, or a server who is hard-wired...that is has a personality that is naturally geared to and capable of providing consistently excellent customer service.
The employee that knows everything there is to know about bicycles...may not be the best person for that customer service opening. I will also bet you have hired an employee, or now have an employee who knows everything there is to know about bicycles and bicycling. You probably hired this person because of their knowledge. You have also watched this employee get into an argument with more than one shopper over some detail or technical point about a component or bicycle. You also have watched as this knowledgeable employee talked down to, offended, or in some other way loose a prospective buyer who just didn't want what this employee told them they should have.
What I have just described is an employee who just isn't physiologically capable of delivering consistent customer service. This person "knows" a lot, and possibly everything there is to know about bicycles...but doesn't have an emotional desire to be a server, or to form any emotional attachment or relationship with the individual in front of them, and make the whole retail process all about "them."
Well-meaning employees get miss-cast. What I have also described is a well-meaning employee that has been miss-cast by their employer because they have been placed in a job that they are not emotionally capable of fulfilling - and accordingly the stress of trying will eventually burn them out, and in so doing they will unintentionally alienate and drive off more potential buyers than the shop owner will ever know about!
Be proactive in seeking out customer service naturals. There are exceptions where a customer service natural also is very knowledgeable about bicycles, but when presented with the need to hire sales staff, hire customer service naturals and educate and train them about bicycles and bicycling.
So it is clear, what we are recommending is seek out and hire customer service naturals for your outward facing staff positions that are in contact in anyway with shoppers and customers.
From what I have been told by some of the most successful bike shop owners in the country, you will find that it is far more productive for your business if you educate and train customer service naturals about bicycles and bicycling - and the skills they need to become customer service professionals.
I also know from both what I have been told and what I have experienced that to not adopt this hiring tactic will trap you in a constant state of frustration over your staff not performing in sales positions the way you expect them to and will restrict the growth potential of your business.
Keep in mind that you will need to strike a balance in hiring, educating and leading a staff of customer service naturals and knowledgeable bicycle technicians. One of our readers told me a story about a local brand affiliated store that hired all "neighborhood" staff and in the process evidently eliminated most or all of their bicycle knowledge workers - leaving them without the balance of skill sets needed to run both an efficient and effective bicycle retail operation.
What you want to end up with is a staff made up of the proper proportions of customer service professionals and bicycle knowledge technicians.
Here is what T. Scott Gross lists as the characteristic of a customer service professional in his book Why Service Stinks...and Exactly What to Do About It! We recommend that you establish this list as your benchmark for education and training of your customer service naturals.
Characteristics Of A Customer Service Professional:
- Greets customers without delay
- Offers a friendly greeting
- Recognizes each customer as an individual
- Offers help where appropriate
- Has a no-pressure sales approach
- Spends time freely explaining and in conversation
- Devotes full attention to transaction
- Asks questions to determine needs (in a non-pressure way)
- Physically demonstrates product where appropriate
- Is willing and able to answer questions
- Is able to locate products quickly
- Has a professional appearance and language
- Speaks well of company and product
- Handles product with respect
- Looks for opportunities to serve
- Does not offer a canned presentation
- Suggests solutions tailored to each customer
The next question is...how do I hire customer service naturals? Steve Wilson, owner of Willow Creek Consultants (http://www.willowcc.com/) recommends the following relative to recruiting employees:
- Recruit all the time! Don't be reluctant to recruit applicants for positions without a vacancy. Vacant positions cost you money, so it is a much better tactic to maintain a pool of pre-qualified applicants that you can call when whenever you have a vacancy. Some of your pre-qualified group won't be available, but some will just be waiting for you to offer them a better opportunity. If you wait until you have a vacancy to begin the process of recruiting...the more likely you will be pressured into a bad selection.
- Start now to recruit and qualify several people for each of your key positions. Keep the files updated, and you will eliminate, or at least minimize the pressure to recruit you will have more time have the assessments done and conduct interviews.
- Help wanted ads are expensive and rarely produce a large pool of qualified applicants. In general, the really good people are not looking for a job or reading the ads.
- Business cards produce great applicants. Have everyone on your staff carry business cards with them when they are out and about. If they receive great customer service anywhere, ask them to give the person a business card and encourage them to stop by and fill out an application.
- Be active in your business community. If you don't already belong, join your local Chamber of Commerce and market your business and your employment opportunities. Ask other members of your local clubs and organizations to let you know if the run across a good job applicant that they don't have an immediate opening for.
- Set up educational relationships. Contact local high-schools, junior collages, technical schools, colleges and universities and develop working relationships with those that look most promising for sending you qualified applicants.
- Ask job applicants for referrals. Add a box and space for responses on your job application for "friends and co-workers seeking job opportunities."
After you have a pool of applicants we also recommend that you work with someone like Steve Wilson and Willow Creek Consultants to have the most likely applicants take a series of online assessments. There is an initial assessment that should be conducted before you schedule the first interview. This assessment tells you if the applicant is going to show up for work on time and give you an honest days work.
After the first interview for customer service jobs you will want to have a background check completed (as you should for all applicants that make it past the first interview).
Next, have the applicant take a second assessment. This time a Job Match assessment for the specific job opening, and in this case a customer service professional assessment. This will tell you within hours if the applicant is a customer service natural or not.
If so, you will receive a profile and questions to ask during the second interview, along with a coaching report with recommendations about how to specifically work with the applicant to build on their natural personalities to become a customer service professional.
If the background check and customer service job match come back positive, schedule a second interview armed with the interview questions from the job match assessment...add your own interview method, and decide if you are ready to make the applicant an offer.
My thanks to Ralph for the great feedback, and next week we will continue with your embracing customer service as a product...that consists of four primary elements. If you have time, let me know what you think of this article!