The SNEWS View: Customers spend more with good customer service…how good are you?

A recent survey conducted globally by American Express found that consumers will spend more in a store that provides excellent customer service. This news should be a wake-up call for every business. How good is your customer service? Do you really know?
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A recent survey conducted globally by American Express found that consumers will spend more in a store that provides excellent customer service. In the U.S., it found customers will spend as much as 9 percent more per purchase. This news should be a wake-up call for every business. How good is your customer service? Do you really know? Recently, one shopper reported to a customer service blogger we read (and she had photographic proof) that the salesperson helping her was wearing a necklace that said in bright red letters, “You Suck.” Um, yeah, that would entice me to spend more money in that store…how about you?

Another recent thread in LinkedIn addressed the topic of good customer service, with one expert saying good customer service is simply common sense. We could not disagree more because what commonly makes sense to one generation or culture makes no sense to another. Customer service in a store MUST be taught, trained and continually emphasized by management to be the most important skill a salesperson masters. The “You Suck” necklace should be proof enough of that -- the salesperson likely thought it was funny, and of no consequence to her level of customer service. The problem in that store is customer service is not managed or trained, it is likely simply assumed.

Consider that 61 percent of U.S. consumers reported in the American Express survey that quality customer service is more important to them in today’s economic environment.

And yet, the findings of the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer indicate only slightly more than one-third of U.S. consumers (37 percent) believe that companies have increased their focus on providing quality service. A whopping 27 percent feel businesses have not changed their attitude toward customer service, and an even more stunning 28 percent say that companies are now paying less attention to good service. Talk about opportunity knocking!

It gets better. Nine in ten Americans (91 percent) consider the level of customer service important when deciding to do business with a company. But just 24 percent said they believe companies value their business and will go the extra mile to keep it. Most consumers feel businesses can do more to retain their loyalty. Forty-eight percent feel companies are helpful but don’t do anything extra to keep their business, and 21 percent believe that companies take their business for granted. Let’s hope no outdoor or fitness industry companies are among that 21 percent!

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the American Express survey found that customers are more inclined to talk about a positive experience than complain about a negative one. Three-quarters (75 percent) are very likely to speak positively about a company after a good service experience in contrast with a still very significant 59 percent who are very likely to speak negatively about a company after poor service. According to the survey, excellent customer service experiences also carry more weight than bad ones when U.S. consumers make future spending decisions. Consumers are far more likely to give a company repeat business after a good service experience (81 percent) compared to never doing business with a company again after a poor experience (52 percent).

Still, despite that positive news, it is also important to acknowledge the power of online postings and blogs in influencing purchasing decisions -- especially if the postings are negative. Forty-eight percent of consumers report always or often using an online posting or blog to get others’ opinions about a company’s customer service reputation. And, get this, when those consumers go online, they’re looking for “watch outs,” saying they put greater credence in negative reviews on blogs (57 percent) and social networking sites (48 percent) than on positive ones.

So I ask…how much time are you spending on training your staff to ensure excellent customer service experiences for every customer? Is your staff trained to ensure your customers are delighted to be in your store, whether they are browsing, buying, exchanging or returning a product? The cost of not providing good customer service is alarmingly high -- especially if that customer talks about their experience in your store online. The return on investment by providing excellent customer experiences, though, is so very high, and best of all, your customers will likely start spending more money. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

--Michael Hodgson

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