by Melissa Piper Nelson
A customer walks up to a convenience store clerk with two items — a hot pizza and a cold salad. What will the clerk do? Bag them together, or ask the customer if he would prefer two separate bags? Smiling, the clerk recognizes the challenge and suggests two separate bags — one for the hot, one for the cold.
Watching this transaction recently, I asked the clerk about his decision. “I know some people would just put them together in the bag. It is simpler and takes less time, but I thought they should be kept separate for the best quality of the products,” he said.
Customer service — served both hot and cold.
We have come to expect this level of attention at the grocery store, so why wouldn’t we get the same treatment at the convenience store? Think perceptions. We expect customer service at the big grocery chain because shopping is intended, at least by the grocer, to be a destination experience. We have been conditioned, however, to think of convenience stores as grab and go.
In our minds, we perceive customer service as being an extension of the experience. We actually anticipate how we will be treated as customers according to the surroundings, the ambiance, how the clerks dress, talk, relate to us, and how we have categorized our previous shopping experiences. We do this even before we leave home. Our minds prepare us for having to wait in line and have our groceries packed in big boxes at the warehouse store. We expect well-lighted and clean surroundings at the chain grocery store. We are prepared to expect less attention, but quicker service at the convenience store.
On the other end, employees must learn how each operation expects customer service to be delivered. Do you take your time and offer friendly suggestions? Do you put the eggs and bread aside to be carefully packed last and handed to the customer? Do you move the line quickly by taking money and having the customer ask for services they feel they need?
Think for a moment about your own operation. How do you train your employees to deliver the best customer service? Do you offer an official set of guidelines? Do you encourage thinking outside the box when customer service issues arise?
We send out employees to farmers markets, farm stands, agri-entertainment operations and retail outlets with the training we all think is important. How to showcase product, how to answer questions about where the food comes from, how to make things from the products we sell, how to promote the business and make a lot of sales. Equally important is the training we give employees on how to deliver customer service that enhances the experience and preserves the quality of the product we offer to our clients.
The customer will have expectations of how the experience is supposed to unfold. With exceptional customer service, you can surprise and delight the customer into a new and even better experience than they envisioned. Such an experience shakes out old perceptions and allows us as owners and customers to think outside the box for what we expect. If someone offers to carry my farmers market bag to my car, or has prepared a children’s area to entertain my kids while I enjoy a snack, then, as a customer, I adjust my perceptions of what buying from you or coming to your business can be.
We might think we know, and all our employees should know, what customer service is all about. We smile politely and treat the customer with respect. What we are learning, however, is that perceptions about customer service is an entire realm of belief systems tied in with expectations and experiences.
The convenience store clerk took a moment to think about hot and cold — how the customer might react if he put the two items together. In our everyday frantic reality, it is probably no big deal — we would separate the items sooner or later ourselves. Besides, we have come to understand that buying at a convenience store is an entirely different set of parameters than going to our large chain grocery. We perceive how we will be treated and react accordingly.
Outstanding customer service begs us to move beyond acceptable and anticipated to surprising and meaningful. When we alter the experience, we open up a new level of understanding about our customers and what it means to be truly successful sellers.
The above information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be substituted for legal or professional business counseling.
Customer relations served hot and cold
by Melissa Piper Nelson