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Is Your Customer Service Compassionate?

is-your-customer-service-compassionate1.jpgThere's a really interesting article on the National Retail Federation's Big Blog this week about its annual Customer's Choice Awards, where customers pick the best customer-service companies. The winner the last three years out of five? Not Amazon.com, or even new customer-service legend Zappos.com...no, instead the winner is 98-year-old L.L. Bean.

How does L.L. Bean keep its customers happy? President and CEO Chris McCormick says it's all about compassion.

L.L. Bean's philosophy of customer service: Treat customers like human beings. How refreshing that the company has retained this, in our age of "please fill out this e-mail form on our website, and maybe we'll respond to you sometime."

McCormick quotes company Chairman Leon Gorman: "A lot of people have fancy things to say about customer service, but it's just a day-in, day-out, ongoing, never-ending, persevering, compassionate kind of activity."

There it is again. Compassion. My dictionary says that's "a feeling of deep sympathy . . . accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering."

As a retailer, do you care deeply about your customers? Are you really motivated to solve their problems? If so, how do you show that? Some of L.L. Bean's methods:

  • Actually having live, knowledgeable, well-trained employees answer the phone, within 20 seconds, every time.
  • No-questions moneyback guarantee. Still.
  • Staff at the flagship serving customers 24/7/365.
  • Training workers to "take the time each individual customer requires to feel valued."
Many companies have dispensed with some of these values in our fast-clicking era. But McCormick's words bring home a truth of retailing: Ultimately, it's an opportunity to serve people. And to treat those people in a way that is uplifting and makes them feel you care.

Budgets may be strapped, but it doesn't cost to smile, greet customers and really listen to what they're saying.

Is your customer service compassionate? How do you define that? How do you deliver it? Leave a comment and let us know.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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