Most garden centres are reporting static customer numbers. What are the secrets to building a culture of customer care that pays dividends in reputation and word-of-mouth recommendation to bring more customers through your doors?
It’s good to get positive feedback – it’s something we all enjoy in every walk of life. Often garden centre managers and staff say “Our customers love us. They are always telling us what a great garden centre this is!”
But is it surprising to get good reports from regular customers? Do you take their loyalty for granted and can you grow your business just by continuing to satisfy them alone?
When you consider:
- Most garden centres are reporting static customer numbers
- Hardware and big box retailers are reporting increasing customer numbers
- In these recessional times the average spend per customer is down and people tend to be buying only what they need
Then the answer is clearly “NO!”
With this in mind, maybe we would do better to listen to people who aren’t shopping at our stores. Retail focus groups usually indicate poor customer service and inconvenience as the reasons why they wouldn’t support a particular retail store.
Yet providing excellent customer service is a goal that most organisations say they achieve isn’t it? So why is it that in almost every western country the public complains customer service is poor, attitudes are wrong, complaints are not handled well.
How do we change staff attitudes to raise the bar beyond average customer service levels and reap increased customer numbers through sustained customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth recommendation?
Customers are becoming increasingly demanding and they are not afraid of telling more people when things go wrong.
Engaging your staff in customer service training once a year and then leaving it to those same individuals to decide when and how they will consciously implement their training is not enough!
Lack of commitment from senior management, poor understanding of who our customers are, over-emphasis on short term goals and lack of staff training are barriers to achieving higher levels of customer care.
We understand customers are the reason for our business – every business needs them or it will cease to be. But most Garden Centres only think of customers as the people who buy a product or service from them when in fact we should consider a customer to be anyone with whom we interact, both external and internal.
Internal customers are the people in your organisation who rely on the work you do in order to do their work. For example, they could be staff preparing signs, following-up customer enquiries, watering, pricing or re-stocking shelves.
The importance of internal customers is seen in terms of their engagement and commitment. Confusion, delays and inefficiencies have a negative impact on customer service and potentially on the morale of your organisation.
The secret of service excellence is that it requires a complete approach. A complete approach means:
- Clear consistent leadership from the top with senior staff as role models
- Taking care of all the factors that satisfy external customers as well as internal customer focussed systems, processes, and tools
- Employee satisfaction
Above all, an understanding by every member of staff that creating a culture of customer care in your organisation will pay dividends in reputation, efficiency, customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth recommendation.
Initiating a culture of customer service requires a commitment to make every customer feel good while they are on your premises. Where do you start?
Building a team and creating a culture of customer care go hand in hand.
- Hire only people who relate well to others and have a ‘service’ mentality i.e. ‘people’ people who genuinely want to be part of your team and are happy to be there
- Train them so they know about your philosophy and culture, customer service aspirations, operational routines, how to merchandise and product knowledge.
- Encourage and develop a ‘can do’ mentality throughout the organisation
- Talk customer service at every staff meeting and consciously practice good habits. Give them feedback and keep them informed.
- Keep staff involved and informed of your plans and aspirations for the business and communicate your expectations. Staff who feel they are consulted and feel they have contributed to customer service standards generally work harder to make them work
- Encourage sincere attentiveness to customers at all times
- Encourage staff to sympathise, exercise patience and coerce smiles from the grumpiest customers
- When service falls down, encourage them to analyse - “what did I do or say to upset that customer?” without apportioning blame.
- Encourage everyone in the organisation to help each other and congratulate each other when good service is observed or commented on by customers.
- Give staff responsibility. Empower and enable them to use their good judgement and to take the lead in creating positive experiences for customers
I’ve used the word ‘encourage’ several times because effective managers lead by example, communicate encouragement, coach their team and let people contribute.
Friendly, smiling staff work a treat, service slogans don’t. Nor do standard letters and fixed solutions. Technical jargon should be definitely avoided.
And one of the staff mantras should be - "there’s no such thing as: ....... We can’t.... It’s not our policy..... We don’t do that..... It’s impossible".
Understanding who our customers are and building a culture to exceed their expectations will create ‘customer delight’ both externally and internally.
Delighting your external customers brings them back again and again and they spread the word!
Delighting your internal customers ‘catches on’, everyone is happy to be at work and they all want to pull together and work hard to make their garden centre the best!
- Joy Lamb