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How to be stupid in business Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2001
It amazes me how stupid people are and how we get treated as customers.

It's like seeing those buttons companies provide for employees with the slogan, ''Yes I Can,'' then everything you ask them ends with ''No'' or ''I can't do that.''

There's no real secret to customer service and it doesn't involve magic; it just involves common sense, a good attitude and a simple set of rules. When Nordstrom opened last year, there was a big fuss over its incredible customer service. Don't get me wrong: The employees are great at what they do and it is a benchmark company. But, think about what -- or who -- makes it great.

When it opened, it did not transplant 400-plus people from Seattle. Instead, it hired people who were working at other department stores, trained them and offered them the latitude to make customers happy.

While Nordstrom's customer service is strong, that of many of its competitors is not. Here are stupid things you're wont to see in a department store:

  • Signs allowing only three garments at a time in a dressing room. Why? To deter shoplifting, the stores claim. But, studies reveal only a scant 3 percent of people shoplift, and most shoplifting is an internal problem. There's nothing quite like offending and limiting your customers before they buy something.
  • Waiting in line while the salesperson answers the phone. It makes you wonder whether they're trained to get names and phone numbers, then return the call once the customer standing in front of them has been helped.

Many poor customer service issues can be avoided if store managers spend time observing department managers and coaching salespeople to ensure customers are taken care of properly. If you want your business to be first class, fill it with first-class people and train them well.

This was reinforced when I visited several Southern states to teach business owners how to ensure their employees are nice to customers. Here are eight lessons I learned from talking with these owners.

  1. Be nice all the time.
  2. Treat people with respect. If you want to be treated nicely, recognize that everyone else does, too.
  3. Keep your word. If you say you'll call back in 15 minutes, do it.
  4. Don't say, ''I don't know.'' Replace that with ''Let me find out.''
  5. Look people in the eye and smile. People love a warm smile.
  6. Have a sense of humor. The more fun you have, the more your customers will, too. Southwest Airlines has made a science out of this concept.
  7. Be empathetic. Put yourself in the customer's role and try to understand how he or she feels dealing with you or your business.
  8. Did I say be nice? I can't stress that enough.

If you teach your staff to treat people the way you want to be treated, you'll find your business will earn a reputation for good customer service. And in a tight economy, when consumers can choose where to spend their dollars, building customer loyalty is imperative to long-term success.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best-selling books, ''Can I have 5 minutes of your time?'' and ''Lip Service.''

Hal Becker's website