Dear Diary: Customer service …training needed?

Dear Diary: Customer service …training needed?

Just over five years ago, I changed from a desk job to a retail job. But not just any retail job, I became co-owner of a retail business, a clerk, a stocker, an inventory controller, a janitor, a manager, a bookkeeper, an accountant, a marketer, a customer service representative.

Many times I feel ill-equipped in the area of customer service, despite the plenty of customer service training out there, covering things like:

  • A customer only needs one bad encounter to ruin their attitude toward your business.
  • Proper training and attitude of a clerk is crucial to a successful operation.

But rarely have I seen training on how to become resilient, unless it involves visiting the “Self Help” section of the bookstore. I’ve read a fair share of self-help books in years gone by, and sure, I’ve made some improvements. But now there’s little time for reading and the last thing I want to read is topics on “how to change yourself through positive thinking.”

There are days where I feel I am at a loss and need customer service training — how to respond to bizarre questions, unjustified demands, inconsolable customers. Determining who’s there to scam, verses who has a valid complaint. I fundamentally disagree with the concept of rewarding bad behavior, or giving someone a break or discount just because “they’re new” or “complained the loudest.” Rewards should be granted to long-time supporters, IMO. And for that, we have the challenge posed to us from the liquor board of “not treating them as special.”

Together, my staff and I, are responsible for customer service. But some days I am left scratching my head if employees aren’t working to keep things safe, stocked, neat as these are also part of customer service. To convey correct and consistent information. There is a lot to commit to memory, but the job is very repetitive so memory is likely to develop quick. How do I convey the importance of this all?

Some days I just don’t know what to do or how to cope.

I search for and struggle with ways to keep this small business viable as corporate chains encroach on our territory — some opening just two to three weeks from now. I think of our business goals, and the goal of successful business—

The goal is to bring value to customers in ways that are beneficial for them while also creating additional value for the company itself.

This business is here to benefit customers. When a business benefits customers, it contributes to their lives, they share it and its products with others. This is key.

But I struggle with the time and effort to plan, market, and demonstrate benefits through tasting events when low turnouts result. The costs involved, time donated by special guests from their schedules. Sometimes I am embarrassed. I have a hard time working through these issues internally, to not harbor frustration, but to move forward.

I hear the frustration from customers when they request products that are not available — generally due to insufficient supply or demand — of which I have no control. But the customer becomes irritated with me because I cannot provide what they seek, even though I have 1,200 other perfectly good beers within their reach.

Getting the team of employees to work in harmony; for all to participate under the same guidelines and goals isn’t always as easy as it would seem. Coordinating schedules; it surprises me that even with one full-time and three part-time staff that there are still weekends where we are short-handed, because staff are unavailable due to outside commitments. Promoting realization that if a task is ignored or done half-way that it has a ripple-through affect to their co-workers and customers. Staying late or coming in early to finish incomplete tasks; longer hours means I’m more tired. I’m no work motivator; I find joy in working with self-driven team players. I struggle with all of this. And it all impacts customer service.

Working with third-parties. Getting the communication in line and support in place, the necessary product in a timely manner. Letting customers know the product is here, before they seek it elsewhere.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of customer centricity. To remember, “it’s not about the beer, it’s about the beer!” And get caught up in the business of things. That should probably come as no surprise because when you’re a small business, you’re responsible for keeping it all running while also making customers happy. It’s a big job, and you’re the only one to do it.

Lately these things have been on my mind—

  • Tastings. Most tasting events are scheduled; we don’t have the big funds of a warehouse-style store that can hire an extra person dedicated to stand there and pour samples all day. This means we rely on customers to make time in their schedules to return to try before they buy. I realize this is asking a lot from customers. People live busy lives. How do I create enough value to bring them in, without going in the red? (We have ideas in the works.)
  • Customer Desires. The heart wants what it wants. You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes well you might find you get what you need. But how to get them to TRY (buy)!? So many people looking for rare/limited beers that are sold out or are looking for beers not shipped into our state, simply turn and leave when they hear it’s not here, when there’s other perfectly good beer under their nose. I’m not into a hard sell, but it surprises me how many customers choose to avoid the satisfaction of discovering something else.
  • A Strong Team. How to make sure my staff is on the same page, believing we are all cogs in this wheel. If one is off kilter, it affects the others, customers, and the business direction. I entrust them in being capable, in caring for all the tasks that keep this business moving: receiving, stocking, controlling inventory, assisting customers, maintaining safety, keeping an up-beat workplace. Looking out for one another, working with efficiency, keeping a neat environment, and, most importantly, keeping aware of each other and the customer.


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