If talking to a mall store employee has as much appeal to you as yanking your nose hairs with tweezers, your misery has company. A majority of Americans - 55%, according to Empathica's nationwide survey of 13,000 consumers, released Friday - believe that customer service is getting worse. The other 45% must do all their shopping at Build-A-Bear.
But are we expecting too much?
Shaun Belding, CEO of The Belding Group, a Canadian customer service training and measurement company, points to declining consumer satisfaction in his "Customer Service Around The World" blog as both a result of a workforce "who is less motivated than ever" and customers who "feel more entitled than ever."
If we expect more - and I'm not convinced we do but I'll go with Belding's premise because his website is better than mine - I think it's because a) stuff is more expensive, b) we have less time to shop, c) we hunger for someone to make us feel better.
There's nothing we can do about the first two. But the third - that's where Grandma comes to the rescue.
If business owners want to dramatically improve their customer's satisfaction, let them study the ultimate customer service provider - Gramms, Grammie, G-ma, Me-maw, Na-naw, Ya-ya - whose warmth, kindness and unconditional love makes us feel adored, accepted, doted on and rejuvenated. Is there a better customer service template than that? Just the thought of a trip to Grandma's house (unless your grandma is Courtney Love) puts a smile on our puss and joyful expectation in our heart.
Here's what companies can learn and HAVE learned about customer service, from Grannie.
1. Feed me
We love Grandma's homemade cookies - so buy a toaster oven and have the smell of fresh warm cookies wafting throughout your store. Hampton Inn is famous for this - hundreds of online reviews mention their cookies, like this one for a Hampton Inn in Alexandria, Virginia: "The 24-hour gourmet coffee and homemade cookies were an unexpected and succulent bonus." Nordstroms, some car dealers and hundreds of other smart merchants serve customers chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar and snicker-doodles - mmmm I want to buy from you. Mmmm.
2. Touch me
Grandma welcomes us with a smile, a "Hi!" a touch of the hand and a hug - so do many Italian restaurant owners in Manhattan, most shop owners in Brazil and everybody in Turkey.
So touch us shoppers - properly. With a handshake, right at the door. Touching releases endorphins - in training I call it "The Activation Greeting." It puts consumers in a happy place. Forget the argument that people don't want their hand touched because of germs - that's an excuse not a reason. And don't worry about being turned down, says Jennifer Allan, successful real estate developer and author of the book Sell With Soul. In her "Selling Soulfully" blog she writes, "I'd much rather take the risk of being rebuffed by my introductee, than of alienating a potential new friend or client."
When it comes to greeting them at the door of your store, remember the sage words of (Grand)Ma Bell: Reach out and touch someone.
3. Spoil me
Grandma makes everything about you - she talks about your pretty eyes (that you got from her) as she invites you to sit in her comfy recliner and watch TV while she cooks your favorite meatloaf and apple pie, serenading you with a song you loved to hear her sing when you were little while she brings you coffee. Ahhhhh heaven - right here on Earth.
So which businesses have elevated their customer service to the point where shoppers feel blown away by the personal attention and spoiled by staff? Most of us are still waiting to experience it for the first time. Business owners and employees often tell me they're afraid to engage consumers on such an intimate, overwhelming level because they feel as if it's "too much." I tell them that's because "not nearly enough" has become the standard. Maybe it's my "in your face" Italian heritage. Maybe it's because I'm just too stupid to worry about people being scared of me because I'm too nice. Meantime I'm waiting for the day I kill someone with kindness or am killed myself with someone else's.
And we'll continue to wait, unless and until savvy business owners decide to step up their customer service template, with handshakes, cookies and extra-special kindness for visitors. Come on - spoil us! Just like Grandma has been doing since we were kids.
Jonnie Wright is a marketing consultant and customer service trainer in Des Moines, Iowa. Email him at email@example.com
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