THE BLOG

Customer Service? Simple, Just Be of Service

12/09/2013 10:22 pm ET | Updated Feb 08, 2014

This post was inspired by my wife, Kate.

Once in a while, usually the weekend, I indulge myself in a piece of cake. Last week, Kate brought home a slice of Victoria sponge, a favorite of mine. As she placed the cake on the kitchen table, she explained the odd story that accompanied the purchase. Apparently, the young female who cut the slice of cake, said, "Shame, our Victoria sponge used to be made with homemade jam." Then with a sullen grin, she wrapped the cake. I then commented -- "Why would any retailer offer up such a negative, unhelpful comment?" Surely it's best to stay schtum about the bad news, unless of course it's absolutely necessary.

I think we all have a long way to go, as far as being able to communicate in a more helpful manner -- particularly in retail. It's as if some think they are being friendly-helpful, when more often than not, they aren't. That's because they often tend to convey too much information. I'm not suggesting that a retailer should pull the wool over someone's eyes. Far from it, what I am suggesting is that salespeople must always tell the truth, but with their main focus of attention on the good parts. There's no need to mention the bad news, particularly when it comes to cake!

So often I hear individuals complain of experiencing poor customer service. In fact, bad, or less-than-good service seems to be the norm, these days. There's a lack common sense, little or no empathy, and an insufficient "hunger," particularly in many retail establishments. And by hunger, I mean there's a lackluster approach to selling and providing excellent service. In essence, simply being of service seems to be in short supply. Where's the enthusiasm about taking my money? Seems to me, as if the Golden Rule of customer service has left the building. The Golden Rule being: Treat your customers as you would like to be treated.

Not so very long ago, providing customer service meant offering nothing less than the Gold Standard. When I was in the retail business, it would not have occurred to me to offer anything less than the very best service I was able to provide. Sadly these days exemplary service is the last thing that's expected... save when we shop in the upmarket stores of Bond Street, or of Fifth Avenue, and the like. That would suggest, that in order to get great service, you need to spend a lot of money. Now, if that is the case, it is very sad indeed. If one is purchasing one small item, or several large items, the quality of service should always be excellent.

When I had my retail business, my motto was: Treat every customer as if he or she is the last customer you'll ever see. That way, knowledgeable, professional sales staff give all their attention to that customer. It's being said that modern technology reduces our ability to focus. And in any industry where customers exist, or perhaps where their existence is paramount, providing exemplary service is pivotal. Therefore, being focused is highly relevant. Fact is, to be successful in retail, you need to be able to focus 100 percent. In addition, you actually need to have eyes in the back of your head.

Let me be clear, when I say, be of service, I'm not talking about grovelling or acting sycophantically. It's about being helpful, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Moreover, always enabling the customer to make the best choice possible. It seems as though one doesn't need any qualifications to be in the customer service arena. I think you do need some qualifications. They are: a love of helping people, enjoying one-to-one communication, and deriving some joy/satisfaction from seeing a total stranger satisfied. And most importantly, garnering some pleasure by knowing you've enabled someone to feel satisfied, simply because you've been of service to them. There's nothing quite like it.

Actually, being a professional in the world of customer service is in of itself a qualification for life skills. These are the kind of skills we all need in the real world. Customer service professionals, who are desirous of learning new ways to communicate, to engage and build rapport, can easily learn these skills on the shop floor, so to speak. The shop floor is where we meet an eclectic group of individuals, from all walks of life. Just by coming across different types of people, as if by osmosis, we tend to pick up new and different behaviors, we are made aware of new cultures, all of this helps us to grow. And surely if we are growing, our life has more meaning.