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Serves You Right

4th, October 2009

There is one positive growth that this pruning recession has planted. And that is there seems to be an improvement in service. With less custom in recent months, business has begun to clean up both the areas that are intended to attract customers to them and their act in actually serving customers. Indeed, the other day, a sales assistant actually stopped talking to her colleague and looked at me. And, I am sure I was not mistaken, there was a glimmer of a smile on her face. Things are getting better I happily thought!

Okay, I received my purchase delivered with a popular enquiry - the one that makes you feel guilty for not doing enough for the climate change - ‘Do you want a bag with that?’ as my purchase was almost thrown at me, but yes, the smile did widen. Feeling a little valued for my custom I smiled too, only to catch a glance of myself at one of the mirrors on the pillars – and noticed that I had an ink mark on my cheek. It was only a small stain but, as I noticed turning back, enough for my assistant to ignore the next customer while openly joking to a colleague about the last customer.

It is true that with business being slow, good business is working hard to make areas more attractive, to welcome customers, to treat them with respect. Conversely many businesses are taking the time to get, bizarrely, tougher with their customers – treating them almost as an annoyance that infringes on their smooth running of a business that is suffering because of the fault of the Government. The fact is that without customers a business does not exist. Make no mistake, customers are more important than shareholders, landlords, employers, employees, bank loans, products – everything.

The only thing, that counts in business, the very life blood, heart and lungs, are customers. And the only factor that makes a difference in attracting them again and again is service. Absolutely fantastic, outstanding, better-than-excellent, beautiful service! Yet, astoundingly, people do not know the difference between serves you right, in a derogatory sense; and serves you right in the admirable, respectful sense.

It is not enough to point the blame at sales assistants. Because there are no bad students, there are only bad teachers. The fish rots always from the head first. And when someone complains to me that you just can’t get good staff these days, I reply with the Peter Drucker classic: ‘Were they like that when you hired them, or did you make them that way?’

Taking time to clean up sales clutter is an utter waste of time if we do not train the clutterers to want to keep things tidy and to want to make customers feel valued. The only way to do that is to take time out and train people. The UK retailer, Marks & Spencer, offers great service. It can still go further though, yet it seems to know that, and does seek to continually improve. But real training goes far deeper than just ‘training’.

Before we can truly serve another, we must serve ourself first. That does not mean taking first, it means putting ourselves in order first through self improvement. When we are able to hear the phrase of: ‘serves you right’ in the praise context of how a person treats their customer; rather than the unthoughtful intent when another is supposedly taught a lesson, then we are on the right road to real recovery. We need to become agents of the real Secret Service. In that way we earn a Licence to Thrill Customers.