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- Getting Back to Basics: A Customer Service Tale -

'Getting Back to Basics: A Customer Service Tale'
By: Joy Fisher-Sykes

One hot summer day my daughter and I ventured to our local craft store with one mission in mind 'purchase velvet covered coloring panels called fuzzy boards. Little did we know this simple trip would turn into such an adventure.

The store advertised the boards on sale and offered a 40% discount coupon. My daughter excitedly selected two boards however I noticed different manufacturers produced them, so I asked her to select an extra board just in case both were not on sale. She did, and we proceeded to the cashier. With a half hour until closing, we eagerly approached the only open register, behind which stood two young women. This is when the adventure began, and things took a turn for the worse.

We saw two store clerks at the check out. Seated on the floor was one associate who faced the cashier line and the other, the cashier, did not which made it impossible for her to be aware of approaching customers. When she saw us, the associate on the floor did cease her end of the conversation and told the cashier she had customers. Unfortunately, the cashier ignored this information because it took her a minute before she turned and greeted us with 'Oh, I sorry.' I'm not sure exactly what she apologized for because she then proceeded to continue her conversation.

I told the cashier we needed to know if all of the items were on sale. Although she acknowledged the request, she still continued talking to the other associate and proceeded to scan all of the items for purchase. When I pointed out her error her response was 'Oh, okay, sorry,' and once again she resumed her conversation. She clearly was not present 'her mind was engaged and committed elsewhere. Her actions communicated her conversation was far more important than this sale.

The cashier did one final thing that was the final straw. After the correct total was tallied, my daughter handed the cashier a 40% off store coupon. The cashier took it and immediately threw the coupon away, turned to us with a smile and told us our total. At this point, I thought I was in the twilight zone or on some really bad reality show.

When I asked why the coupon was thrown away, she explained the coupon was only valid on regularly priced items. After a very deep breath, I proceeded to share few ideas. First, I stated when she threw the coupon away, we were unclear why. I explained an explanation of her actions would have avoided any misunderstandings or ill will. She apologized once again, and said she understood and agreed. Second, I stated her inattentiveness during the transaction was inappropriate and did not make us feel like the valued customers we are. Finally, I said during business hours it is best to remain focused the most important component to retail success, customers. Personal conversations are best left for discussion after hours. Her associate must have agreed, too, because at this point she turned and walked way.

This shopping excursion caused me to pause and think all service provider must always exhibit certain basic behaviors 'customer service basics. Here are a few:

Basic Rule #1 'Acknowledge Customer's
How many times have you walked in a store and you weren't acknowledged? How did you feel? I can't tell you how many times I've witnessed service providers who take personal phone calls (or worse answer their cell), speak to other co-workers regarding non-urgent matters, or who simply walk away without explanation. Basic customer service requires an acknowledgement as soon a customer enters your establishment 'whether you will be ready to provide service in one minute or twenty. An acknowledgement says ' I'm glad to see you and value your business. We will help you as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.' A little appreciation goes a long way, especially if at the time you find yourself short handed. As soon as you see customers'acknowledge them. Although this sounds obvious, it simply just isn't practiced as it should.

Basic Rule #2 'Be Present and Listen
When assisting customers, it is important to always be 'present.' Being present required you to be in the moment ready to provide your customer with your full, undivided attention from start to finish. It is imperative customer's always feel important and the center of attention. To accomplish this you must remain fully focused.

Active listening is a critical component of any customer interaction. This is a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is the perception of sound. Active listening requires us to hear, interpret, and then take action. Active listening empowers us to consistently provide our customers exactly what they need.

Basic Rule #3 'Explain Your Plan
Customers need to know and want to understand the reason for your plan of action. Many times I have returned an item only to have the clerk shove a form and pen in front of me without so much as a please or explanation. As if I should be know what they want from me. Always clearly explain each step and the reason for your request.

About the Author

Joy Fisher-Sykes is a professional speaker, author, and success coach in the areas of leadership, motivation, stress management, customer service, and team building. You can e-mail her at, or call her at (757) 427-7032. Go to her web site,, and signup for the newsletter, OnPoint, and receive the free ebook, "Secrets, Stories, and Tips for Marvelous Customer Service."


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