Foreword Online

Ideas, information and industry news for collegiate retailers

What Is Customer Service?

Posted by Liz Schulte on 6/27/18 5:30 AM
Topics: college store customer service, customer service, customer experience

There are as many definitions for customer service as there are industries. The position has to be fluid enough to cover whatever needs to be done. However, defining expectations for employees helps them meet the business’ and customer’s expectations.

What Is Customer Service

Several years ago, I was the manager of a customer service department for a local newspaper. The position was one of the most challenging jobs I have ever had. Every day my team and I would field all the calls that came into the paper. Some needed to be transferred, some wanted to ask random questions, some were lonely and wanted to talk, but the vast majority of them were upset. People were angry about the content of the newspaper, missing a delivery, the placement of the delivery or the fact that they received a free paper. Our encounters ranged from mild irritation to irate threats and personal vendettas — one person even called her congressman because her newspaper wasn’t on her porch.

During this time I defined customer service as the ability to calmly and kindly resolve the customer’s problem. While that definition was extremely accurate for the type of work we did, it didn’t fit every variation of the position. In a hospital, customer service may boil down to clear explanations and spending time with a person, but in retail, it is helping people get in and out of your store as quickly as possible.

Customer patience is thin. This is why self-service is growing in popularity even though it is a far from perfect system. Customers would rather check themselves out or solve their own problem 81% of the time. People want simple solutions to their problems, which means by the time they have exhausted their own resources for solving an issue, they are already frustrated. This is why customer service reps who are willing to take control and solve a problem create a better customer experience than those who rely on empathy, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Look for employees who provide solutions and efficient resolution more than those who empathize or need to seek out management approval. When training employees, don’t focus on scripts or disruptive engagement. Instead, explain what good customer service looks like in your store. Do your customers like more individualized attention or would they rather get what they need and leave? Help employees learn how to read customers and best accommodate them. Make sure the people on the floor have the knowledge and technology they need to answer questions. Does a student have a question about their student financial aid? A mobile POS would allow an employee to look up that information on the floor rather than having the student come to the register. An updated POS system can also speed up checkout times, meaning shorter wait times for customers.

Customer service is often a thankless job. Even when people go beyond the call of duty, their efforts often aren’t noticed because it is their job to help customers. Service industries have a notoriously low retention rate. Constantly hiring and training new employees drains time and resources, and it costs money. In a study on employee retention, it was found that replacing an employee costs about 20% of that person’s salary. By taking the time to train and show appreciation to the employees you decrease costs and offer customers a better experience.

Apart from giving employees the tools they need to be successful, it is important to remember to praise them. When you do take the time to let them know that you noticed what they do, it is impactful and meaningful. Celebrate your employees’ great feats of service.  

Have your employees provided excellent customer service? Tell us about it in the comments!


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