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Customer Service at the Front Lines – “The Weakest Link”

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Editor’s note: Reading Brian’s post here got the adrenaline flowing. The irony of retail is that the lowest paid associates, also the ones with the highest turnover rate, are the primary interface for the customer. How ironic….spend millions on branding, advertising, merchandising, fashion consulting…..and then leave your fate in the hands of people who are the least empowered in your organization. There is an opportunity for success for retailers willing to invest in training, motivation, incentive, and application of a higher standard of care – both for their associates and the end customers. Call me naive, but it can be done. Brian shares two good tales and I have many more as I am sure you do as well. Please send your comments with a memorable interaction.


Can it be overlooked that the very employee who interacts with the customer the most fails to get the necessary training to help them deal with different circumstances? I am amazed how often this occurs, and want to share a few personal experiences to demonstrate how detrimental poor customer service can be to a business.

Case #1 – “Teed Off”

Every late Tuesday afternoon we head to a local golf course to play 9 holes.  It is a great way to interact with various departments and talk shop. In the beginning of the year we choose a course and plan an entire season of play. We have done this for years and it was our second year at this particular golf course.  We agreed with the course owners that we would have 3 to 4 foursomes on a weekly basis, but on occasion less due to business travel that can’t be easily predicted.

One afternoon four of us showed up and headed to the pro shop to sign in and pay. The young gentleman at the counter proceeded to tell us we had “been bumped” because there was a tournament going on. We simply could not go out!  He had no emotional sincerity and could care less that we were weekly league customers. We tried to reason with him as there was no one on the tee, and we could easily work into the flow of play.  When that didn’t have any effect, we threatened to take our weekly business elsewhere, suggesting this was outrageous considering they didn’t even call us to tell us we couldn’t play that day. Once again, he could care less about our feelings, and worse, our business.

The next day we sent over a nice letter to the pro stating what happened and that we would no longer patronize the course. He was very apologetic, saying that the associate behind the counter had no idea what he was doing, and offered us a free round to keep our business. We appreciated the efforts of the pro, but question why the counter person didn’t have any idea what he was doing? He is the person who interacts with all the golfers on a daily basis and is the face of the course!  The very next week my co-worker and I showed up for our free round. There was the same kid behind the counter and an older woman in front of us arguing about the way he gave them handicap scores. He dealt with this woman for 20 minutes as we stood there in line, never acknowledging us once! I finally asked to pay before our tee time passed us by.  This kind of service can ruin a business.

Case #2 – “Dead Air”

Have you ever called into to a call center and reached a representative who said “this will take a second”, whether it was to type, or fire up that computer that was not working? Most times, and I see it in my own center as I monitor calls, they either talk to themselves, say nothing at all, and the customer has to ask if they are still there?

I call it the GAP, which can be a very advantageous place to start building a relationship. There should never be “dead air” time during a customer service call. It is a great opportunity to tell the customer about your rewards program, or anything else that could be a nice benefit to them. If you run a call center as I do, listen to the amount of dead air time and prance on the opportunity to build an encounter with the customer. It will do wonders for the experience!

In the end, it all comes down to proper training and making  sure that the employees who interact with the customers, especially if it is face to face, have the necessary training in place to accommodate all situations. Most companies focus on the product or service information, and don’t focus on customer experience training. I am currently working with our curriculum writers to create an entire training for customer experience.

Why not review the  training materials at your company as a good starting point to see where you can improve?

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