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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Customer Service is a Contact Sport. How well are you playing the game?

The Ultimate Customer Experience. You think you are giving it....would your customers agree?

We all want to provide stellar service to each and every customer, every single day.  After all, Extreme Customer Service is the one area where brick and mortar retailers have a big advantage over their Big Box and E-Retail counterparts.  Of course, we have all heard stories about the rude or detached shop owner. Where is the disconnect?  Diane Gilleland, who is a respected author on matters related to social media, crafting and more, once did a blog post asking her readers for "Craft Store Horror Stories" and she was inundated with responses.  Some were laugh out loud funny, while others were simply pathetic.  A few typical comments:

Jen laments the treatment from her neighborhood yarn shop: 
It never fails, when I want to feel like an inept crafter, all I have to do is visit our LYS. Whenever I go in to browse yarn, I get the evil eye from the "usuals," slouched in randomly placed easy chairs, (some directly in front of shelves and alcoves, making it impossible to examine an entire row of yarn), knitting at rapid pace with snarls that read: What is SHE doing here?

Also, the folks at our LYS would rather cough up yarn balls than help anyone locate a particular fiber or assist someone with understanding a pattern or project. I invited a coworker to visit the LYS during our lunch break. My coworker brought a pattern she had printed from the internet. We spent 15 minutes admiring yarn before my coworker asked the YS employee, standing idle at the register, if she could recommend yarn for her pattern. The employee examined the printed pattern and replied in a monotone: "This pattern is from Hobby Lobby. It requires synthetic yarn. WE don't sell synthetic yarn." She then turned her back and went off to admire the work of some snarling person slouching in an armchair. 

Say it, Sistah!  Jen's experience mirrors the one I have every time I walk into one of the two yarn shops in my area.  I frequented the shop a number of times and and spent money on every visit but the last, when I finally determined that I would be damned if I was going to give any more of my hard earned money to such a sourpuss.

Kelly jumped on the bandwagon with the following observations:

Well, I hate to take another blast at LYS's but some of the worst customer service I have ever experienced is in three different ones I have been to:  

1. The owner of a local store [since closed] used to spend *all* of her time either talking/complaining loudly on the phone or yakking loudly with someone in the back of the store. I flipping hate that. You can park your personal conversation for the 15 minutes I am in your shop. If I'm there for much longer, you can talk quietly.

2. I once went to an LYS where the proprietor literally stood behind me the entire time I shopped and then would have the driving need to "re-stock" directly in front of me, wherever I was standing. I was totally confused by this behavior until my friend explained after we left: She thought I was going to steal something. (I was *shocked* by this revelation, by the way. Not to sound all old lady about it, but: "Well, I never!")

3. I rarely go to this other LYS but sometimes I find myself in the neighborhood and I check it out. And regret it. The workers are pretty friendly, but the place is a MESS. There is yarn everywhere. Half-empty bags out on the floor and filling every surface. The books (for sale!) are stacked into falling-over piles. It's such a bummer. They sell beautiful yarn, but clearly do not care about the customer experience. I don't want to buy expensive yarn that someone else was stomping all over earlier today. 

Yikes.  Personal phone calls, Aggressive Theft Prevention, Messy Stock.  Who would want to spend time or money in such a place?

The funny thing is...I am willing to bet that the retailers described above would not recognize themselves. They figure that they are doing a bang up job and blame lagging sales on the economy/the competition/the staff.  Silly girls!   Honest introspection is a wonderful thing...........if you dare!  

Meet Carol Garfield, a Crafty Retail Rock Star who has turned Customer Service into an art form!  Carol owns Dancing Beads in Medford, Oregon.  Her story is one that will resonate with you and she will share more about her journey next week.   Carol loves what she does and she does it well. The store ---about 600 square feet---  is her only source of income and Carol mentioned that she says "thank you" to her little shop every morning when she walks in the front door.   I believe it.  Her enthusiastic and infectious personality is permeated by a genuine attitude of gratitude. 
When asked about the key to her success, Carol noted that she is constantly looking for ways to improve the customer experience.  She opened her first store in 1995, with no retail experience.  Although she didn't know much about owning a retail store, she knew how she liked to be treated while shopping in a retail store.  Carol observed that every Nordstrom's store has a banner sales staff and she emulated the Nordstom customer service model.

Her secrets include:

Know your customers and greet them by name as they walk through the door.   It is important to remember a little something about each one...trips they have taken, important events in their lives, the details of their most recent project.  For example, if an item comes in that might be of particular interest to a customer, Carol will make note of it so that she can immediately draw the customer's attention to it when she next visits.  The message: "You matter enough for me to remember you."  Good business with a side of warm fuzzies!

 Give something away every day.  Carol believes in the power of free and she strives to give something away every single day.  The customer who remembers that she needs two feet of chain just after the sale has been rung up might find the chain in her bag---no charge.   

Think fast and go for the win-win.  Lots of  retailers "get attitudinal" when customers ask for discounts/special pricing.   Not Carol...she just figures out a way to make it work for her, too.  For example, she was approached by a very good customer seeking to purchase gemstones from Carol's vendor.  Eek!  

[insert AWKWARD MOMENT here]

Although hesitant, Carol was determined to craft a win-win.  After all, the customer was savvy and in this internet age it is fairly easy to find wholesale sources.  Carol wanted to preserve the relationship more than she wanted to make the one sale.  So........she talked to her vendor and established some ground rules.  The vendor spent five hours with the customer and wound up selling her strand after strand of beautiful gemstones.   The customer got a great deal, and the gemstone dealer sent Carol a check for half of his profit.  Bottom line:  The customer saved a little while Carol and the Gemstone Dealer made a little.  Everybody wins.  Carol said that she was happy to go for the slow dime rather than the fast nickel and the customer is still a customer.  Well done, Carol, well done!


  1. I have thoroughly enjoyed this article! I also have a bead shop and have experienced the very same challenges. It is truly so very hard to keep staff reminded about good customer service! We recently had some shoplifters visit the shop who took some consignment items as well as shop stock. That experience has made me be much more attentive to customers I don't personally know - thus, causing the hovering response. This article has helped me to remember to watch from a distance and to interact in a friendly helpful way!
    Thank you for that! Jan Hathcock, Beads and Other Fancy Stuff, Morganton, N.C.

  2. Jan:
    Shoplifting is a real concern for every retailer and there is something particularly intoxicating about those shiny little beads just begging to be touched! The savvy shopkeeper must walk a careful line to keep a watchful eye from becoming an annoyance to an innocent shopper. I have been there and it isn't always easy!