I was supposed to be writing a book about customer service and experience for the past … oh that’s not good, I can’t remember which is an indication of how long it’s been, whew child. The book was supposed to be my springboard into my own business consulting firm as I was going to be revolutionary in my approach. After 20 years in sales and customer service I am confident that I have gained enough knowledge and experience to teach and coach businesses on how to increase their profits through the action of customer service. Simple enough. I started to write the book and if memory serves me correctly I have a few chapters. Here’s the hiccup, my heart is not in adding to the multitude of publications already out there about customer service and customer experience that apparently no one is really buying or fully implementing.
My proof is the current underwhelming performance of retail and sales businesses over the recent years and the wave of current brick and mortar store closing of retailers that we have known for years. Bare with me for a minute and allow me to explain the connection of retailers closing their stores and customer service. Some readers may automatically get the connection while others may say that’s a big leap. It’s not! First I have to disclose that instead of writing my book I will write it as a very brief story because honestly the answer is so simple like a hamburger, fries and a shake (think about that).
My example retailer of choice is Macy’s. We all know Macy’s, this retailer has been in business since 1858 and to date is a billion dollar corporation. Unfortunately, Macy’s is having some trouble- business is down and OMG the advent of internet sales is killing them (yeah, yeah, ya,ya ya, ya). Macy’s trouble is not that people are predominately internet shopping (by the way, my jaded opinions will be disbursed throughout but please dear reader think bigger picture against media portrayal) but instead their horrible customer service. By the way the online shopping experience for Macy's leaves much to be desired too, trust me I am a professional shopper who does not get paid and only likes shopping for myself.
CAVEAT: Also for disclosure I have to tell you that I very briefly worked for Macy’s therefore my knowledge and experience is direct and I will not be divulging any insider practices or policies.
Back to the horrible customer service; it’s horrible. I once used Macy’s poor customer service as a training example of what not to do and that was before I worked for them. This is not a basic opinion as the company has been profiled in the national media for having horrible customer service. What’s really bad is that many of the examples highlighted as to the corporation’s bad customer service are common and repeated experiences among many people thereby in a way making them factual. One common example highlights how when customers enter Macy’s stores there does not appear to be any immediate salespersons available.
During my employment and as a customer this had been a consistent experience for me, the customers I assisted and individuals I have talked to about Macy’s. This is a problem throughout the corporation, not just a few individual department stores. To scare you a little bit more, the corporation knows it too. Here’s the rub - instead of solely addressing the customer service issues, the corporation has added subsidiaries, reward programs, and different brands.
This has pretty much been the reaction by many corporations and companies, instead of addressing the main problem of poor customer service, they will implement different aspects in the name of competing and staying current. Allow me to say this if your service is shitty, I don’t want your damn reward card because I won’t be using it or patronizing your business anymore, BECAUSE YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE IS SHITTY!!
Gosh darn it Disney! The Disney Corporation (because it is a business people and I worked for them too) is the golden child of customer service and experience. Many companies use the Disney Model for customer experience as the mark of greatness. I too marvel at this model because I will say one thing about the Disney company, they get it. Disney gets the importance of customer service over everything else. Everything throughout this corporation is based on the principle that the customer matters so much that we have to create an ``experience” for them. A positive guest experience. Now that I write this I do not recall ever hearing or reading about anyone having a negative experience at the amusement parks or their stores. That is not to say no one has never had one, but there has not been a lot of press or word of mouth about negative experiences... huh. Other businesses study the Disney Model, there are books written about it and seminars taught on it. Because again Disney has made the connection and always has; the connection is simple, treat people the way you want to be treated.
I am not going to be fully praising the Disney Model as the example of the best business practices because I take issue with some of their practices and I am not writing a book. Overall the core of the Disney Model as it relates to customer service is simplistic AND it does not ever say “the customer is always right” - didn’t see that coming, did you? The Disney Model purports that a great customer experience is created by anticipating what the customer wants and needs before they even know. For example, I was discussing fast food with my father and how bad it is for you to which he recalled eating at Disney World or Disney Land and noted that there were no flies flying around. I explained that is not because the food is so bad that insects wouldn’t even consider eating it but instead the magic of Disney and some well placed fans. No one wants to be bothered by flies at the most magical place. Disney has taken that into consideration before the customer even realized that when eating outside flies could be a problem. The Disney Corporation is strongly well aware of the idea that customer needs must be anticipated before the customer realizes what their needs are. This is the same simplistic model at Apple; another company that does not say “the customer is always right”. Corporations and businesses like Disney and Apple understand that providing great customer service and providing a great customer experience is not difficult and can be very profitable (guess who ain’t having serious profit problems lately). Nor is the practice difficult to teach and implement.
This is just my perspective but many organizations, businesses big and small, and corporations do not invest in the one thing that they need in order to survive and thrive - it’s people. Some entities will say that they are investing in its people or that is their goal to do, but in real time they do not and it shows (cough-Comcast). You, dear reader as a customer will be the first to witness and be a victim of these poorly implemented investments and goals. You will hear individuals speaking from scripts, asking questions that do pertain to your situation, and/or you will overall just become frustrated with the company and cease doing business with them. I have to add also that customer service does not just extend to the service or interaction with agents but also the products being sold.
Okay this last example organization, ooohhhhh guuurrrrllllllll, she’s just bad in the sense of just drama filled, Victoria’s Secret (no never worked for them). Victoria’s Secret has been in business since the late sixties and honestly in my opinion the company was started on a dishonest premise. Roy Raymond, the founder, initially started the company because he felt embarrassed about buying his wife lingerie and felt that the process should be a comfortable yet an exciting experience for men without being perceived as perverts (Schossberg, 2015). Okay. While Mr. Raymond was considerate of one segment of his target audience the company has a history of missing the mark with what should have been their main target: Women. Also allow me to comment on the fact that the company was started in San Francisco and not England as it was implied in the vast marketing….uggghhhh realigning my chakras….anyway. This company’s history of missing the mark with women occurs most often with it’s products. The company use to sale beautifully made nightgowns of Victorian style, to comfy sweaters and corduroy, sexy but comfortable bras and panties to now selling tacky cosmetics, fragrances that my oldest daughter refers to as baby prostitute smells (don’t ask), and junior size jogging sets.
Victoria’s Secret is guilty of ignoring its customer base therefore providing bad customer service. Personally, I have never had a bad customer experience with Victoria’s Secret via store or online. I also haven’t bought anything from this company in years, because this company has not met my needs since the very late 80s. It all started when I needed a 40DD bra and at the time that size in Victoria’s Secret was vulgar, think Frederick’s of Hollywood and breast implants which implied porn and fakeness. No real woman that was married or in a serious relationship would ever have breast that size - which is hysterical now as I type it but that’s how the salesperson made me feel and darn near implied. Move to current day as we should all now be familiar with issues of Vicky’s Secret and dare I say I saw a woman in an ad that was... clutching my pearls, a size 6 with...a-slight- bulge (I faint). For the longest time Victoria’s Secret only catered to the junior size or those women that wore mostly size 00 (it exists!). The company almost had to be shamed and boycotted into expanding their size range. Unfortunately the recent update in sizes is all too late because the company is now synonymous with images of “skinny women hanging around in clouds with wings on their back and rib cages very visible or teenage girls covered from head to toe in the word PINK”. Suffice it to say my size 16 behind and many like me received bad customer service by being sidelined. Sorry Vicky your secret is out.
The only secret sauce to providing great customer service and experience is treat customers as you would like to be treated, speak to customers as you would like to be spoken to, and put yourself in the customer’s shoes when anticipating their needs and wants. Always remember that customer service is a two way street - don’t forget that it is a human being on the other end of that service. Speaking disrespectfully to a customer service person will not garner you better service, just service that I would be very leery of considering (ever seen that movie Waiting, ugh). My theory and practice is that in order to change the way customer service is currently taught is to make an ingrained and innate practice. It should be a easy as breathing, without thought. You want to see your profits turn upwards, generate a great and strong customer service aspect to your business. Make a concerted effort for it to be normalized for your business and not just another step. Remember that your customer is also your employee; making great customer experiences require happy employees. Investing in your employees sincerely in areas of customer service has a great return beyond the walls of your organization. Great customer service is as simple as just greeting, acknowledging, listening, asking questions, and being human. Trust me your product could be less than spectacular but if the service is great and my experience is superb guess where I will become loyal patron (we got some work to do Whole Foods)?
*Schlossberg, Mallory. (2015). How Victoria's Secret's core customers have completely changed. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/victorias-secrets-crazy-history-2015-7