You Need to Stop Making These 5 Customer Service Mistakes

It's time to update your customer service training manual.

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By Bob Phibbs


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Customer experience is the mantra of many brands, but there is often a disconnect between what the customer experiences and what the business owners or staff experience.

When you do a deep dive into why customer service is so bad in many brands, you discover five common mistakes, which are easy to fix yet have a big impact on the bottom line.

1. Don't reduce expenses.

When sales are down it is easy to cut corners in the name of managing costs. Turning off overhead lights in the afternoon. Reducing staff or even not accepting credit cards because of the additional processing fees.

You're stepping over dollars to pick up pennies. Turning the lights off means your store looks abnormally dark as a customer walks toward the back. Reducing staff increases wait times. Not letting customers choose the way they want to pay adds friction, and some will simply walk out without buying.

Related: Customer Service Lessons Learned on the Road

When I was working in a retail store, a customer was about to buy nearly $1,000 worth of merchandise with an American Express card, and we had to say, "Sorry, we don't take AMEX."

The customer left without his purchases. We joined American Express the next day. Since then, we've noticed our customers are happier and we've enjoyed an increase in monthly sales because of it. When you make it all about your customers, your business will enjoy higher sales, which brings all expenses into line.

2. Don't treat regulars better than first-timers.

Just as I was about to place my coffee order the cashier said, "Excuse me," as she looked at a man three people behind me. "Fred, do you want the usual?"

I'm sure, in her mind, she thought she was giving me great customer service. She had acknowledged me and helped her regular customer. What she didn't realize was that it was giving her regular customer preferential treatment over me.

What did it cost the business? I never returned. When you haven't done the hard work of treating your new customers just as well as your old ones, you develop a core group of customers and stop growing.

3. Don't ask for a commitment before providing inspiration.

Old sales training encourages salespeople to tie down the customer early on so as not to waste the salesperson's time. While most retailers don't even have retail sales training anymore, many companies allow their employees to ask questions that put the customer immediately on the defensive.

Related: 7 Tactics That Show You're Getting Customer Service Right

What does it cost you? While many customers will tell you their budget, no one comes in and says the sky's the limit. Limiting their choices means you are making them settle. When they can't find something in their price range, they feel judged by the employee and leave empty-handed.

4. Don't only sell the customer on what they ask for.

Most customers nowadays research online before ever walking through your door. When they do come in, and ask for a specific product, poorly-trained employees will simply take them to it, or tell them they don't have it.

The trouble is your shopper will never discover another option you have that will do the same thing or a premium model that will work even better. The shopper is never given the chance to compare and contrast, which means your store's success is solely dependent on what customers ask for, not what you carry. That's a sure way to leave a lot of money on the table.

5. Don't add services at the expense of coverage.

Buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS) requires dedicated staff, space and resources. Merchandising and planning needs to be modified as traditional key performance indicators will not be applicable as the whole store becomes a fulfillment warehouse. These additional omnichannel services do not increase revenue as much as they increase costs, and these costs typically lead to a reduction of staff on the salesfloor.

Related: 8 Ways to Offer Stellar Customer Service That Don't Cost a Penny

The more staff you task to pick up orders, the more your entire focus of your store goes from the customer in front of you to the one you can't see. Dressing rooms filled with clothes, messy displays and long wait times for service make customers pull out their smartphones in your store and buy from a competitor.

To deliver a truly exceptional experience requires you to focus squarely on the person, who drove in the rain, the snow, the heat, past your competitors, to find a parking place and walk into your store. Blow that, and the customers you have now, or any new ones you might have acquired, will either stay home, order online, or buy from a competitor.

Bob Phibbs

The Retail Doctor®

Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor®, has helped thousands of businesses in hospitality, manufacturing, service, restaurant and retail since 1994.  His clients have ranged from multi-national luxury brands to small businesses. With over 30 years of experience beginning in the trenches and extending to senior management positions, Phibbs has been a corporate officer, franchisor and entrepreneur. His speaking presentations are designed to provide practical information in a fun and re-memorable format. His newest product is, his online virtual sales training. Follow him on Twitter @theRetailDoctor.

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