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Commitment to customer service.

Commitment to customer service

Many experts believe America has entered an age of customer rebellion. No longer content to shell out hard-earned dollars for lackluster service and poor quality, American buyers have become demanding. They expect friendly customer service by an educated employee to be part of the shopping experience. Stores, especially specialty stores, that don't meet this perceived obligation stand to lose a great deal.

In fact, 91% of customer who have a negative experience never again patronize the store where the incident occurred, according to Technical Assistance Research Programs (TARP). As if that weren't bad enough, the average customer who feels wronged tells 9 to 10 people about his experience. However, TARP explains that if the problem is corrected, retailers can recapture 82% to 95% of the dissatisfied customers. To avoid potential negative encounters, many store owners and managers are taking steps to ensure that all employees share a commitment to customer service.

Think of your store and your best and worst employees. Remember how disgruntled Mrs. Jones was after Jane didn't help her choose the "perfect" beans for her African Zulu costume party? How about that nice Mr. Smith - wasn't it something that he sent a note commending Melissa on her cordial attitude and the time she spent discussing the merits of one espresso maker over another?

What steps have you taken to ensure that your employees are well-liked (at least the majority of the time)? Are you a believer in serious training? Do you check references prior to hiring? Do you interview job candidates with a psychological testing program? If not, why not?

Front-line employees and their attitudes toward customer service say a great deal about a store's commitment to its customers, according to London House Inc., an organization of human resource professionals who develop and implement psychological testing and evaluation systems and analyze the results for business and industry. For Instance, Nordstrom, a Seattle-based specialty retailer, gives each of its salespeople the responsibility of satisfying every customer that enters the store. An extraordinary level of customer service is the result. At Nordstrom, customers are not sent to different departments for check cashing, gift wrapping or returns; rather, each salesperson is trained to handle all these tasks. By putting the customer first, Nordstrom grew sevenfold in one year. Without front-line employees who share management's commitment to service, such an untraditional approach to retailing might not have paid off.

Your attitude - that is, management's attitude - toward the customer can make or break a service program. Management teams who encourage front-line employees to do whatever is necessary to satisfy the customer must back up their words by supporting their employees' actions. But finding such service-minded managers and front-line employees can be difficult. And finding managers and front-line employees who not only care about customers but are honest and dependable is nearly impossible.

The key word here is nearly.

Traditional hiring methods make it difficult to determine a job candidate's service orientation, much less his or her true attitudes toward honestry, drug abuse or leadership. The problem with such methods is that they provide no safeguards against applicant dishonesty. Applicants may claim during an interview to be dedicated to customer satisfaction, but once on the job, they may prove to be unfriendly or even rude to shoppers. Unless an interviewer is either very experienced or trained in techniques that are designed to elicit truthful response, the interview is unreliable as a measure of an applicant's suitability for a particular position.

Reference checks alone cannot solve this problem. As organizations have become more concerned about possible legal actions, they have become reluctant to provide negative information about former employees, according to London House. This tends to make reference checks less effective than employers would like.

A possible alternative is the paper-and-pencil psychological inventory. Such inventories assess applicants on a variety of dimensions, including customer service. Built into some of these systems are measures of an applicant's truthfulness in answering the questionnaire. Research studies have proven some inventories to be accurate at predicting a job applicant's on-the-job behavior.

One such proven inventory is the Personnel Selection Inventory-7 (PSI-7) from London House. The PSI-7 evaluates the attitudes of entry-level job applicants toward customer relations, work value, responsiveness to supervision, honesty, non-violence, drug avoidance and emotional stability. This inventory is designed to be used with other screening methods, such as interviews and reference checks, to help select the best applicants for positions that require employees to interact well with customers and other employees, to respond well to supervision and yet be flexible enough to handle dynamic, changing situations, and to be responsible, reliable employees.

London House also offers a psychological questionnaire that is designed specifically to help organizations make selection and promotion decisions about potential supervisors. The Management Readiness Profile identifies persons with strong interpersonal skills; it also evaluates management interest, leadership, energy level, practical thinking and management responsibility.

London House worked with major companies to develop the MRP from a variety of industries to determine which skills and attributes are characteristic of successful managers. According to London House, the MRP can help identify individuals who will be strong leaders of a store's customer service effort.

Both the MRP and the PSI-7 meet state and federal requirements for employees selection and promotion. In addition, they are constructed in accordance with the American Psychological Association Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. Evidence shows that neither test has an adverse impact on either sex or any racial or ethnic group.

Your store's necessary investment in such a venture: a ball point pen, a quiet room for applicant to fill out the simple questionnaire, and $6-20 depending on the quantity of test inventory booklets ordered.

For more information on the Personnel Selection Inventory-7 or the Management Readiness Profile, contact London House Inc. at 1550 Northwest Highway, Park Ridge, IL 60068, 800-221-8378 (in Illinois, call 708-298-7311).

In Marketing Without a Marketing Budget, Craig S. Rice states, "You must deliver a solid value to your customer. That's value determined from the customer's point of view, not yours. If you don't, you are unlikely to prosper in any meaningful way. There are three main reasons to pay very close attention to the way customers perceive the quality of your product or service. High levels of customer perceived quality will: 1) Build repeat business. 2) Encourage positive word-of-mouth (and make all your marketing efforts pay off more). 3) Protect you from a competitive standpoint."

An unsatisfied customer who takes the trouble to tell you what's wrong is the ultimate (free!) consultant. That call you received from Mrs. Jones was actually a stroke of good luck! Next time, her Guatemalan food fest party will go off without a hitch and (hopefully) plenty of your store's "perfect" beans will be brewing!

Part of the "product" in any retail organization is the human factor. Make it work for you. Listen to your customers. Understand your employees. Without them, your business is irrelevant.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:personnel management and customer relations in the retail coffee trade
Author:Friedman, Susan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:Cocaine in your coffee?
Next Article:Douwe Egberts and Pickwick too.

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