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Everything I know about excellent customer service, I learned at Liberty Markets and Sears.
Unfortunately, many retailers have lost some of those lessons I learned in my family’s business and while owning and managing a Sears Dealer Store in Turlock.
While I’m now on the other side of retail transactions, I still have an up close and personal look at the general decline of customer service. If anything, in this slumping economy, customer service is more important than ever.
My family has operated Liberty Markets since 1949 and I began my career there at age 11. My dad and his three brothers all taught me valuable lessons in business and life.
I use these lessons everyday and have passed them on to my business students at California State University, Stanislaus. They’ve learned my father’s Golden Rule for customer service: “Take care of people and they’ll take care of you.”
Simple and it works. It’s much more expensive to attract new customers than to retain your current customers. I was always told, “the customer is always right and deserves 100 percent of your attention.”
How many times have you not been greeted by a sales associate? How many times have you been caught in the middle of personal conversation between sales associates while being checked out at the register?
Management is responsible to establish company policy and make sure it is enforced. Managers also are accountable that associates have proper training and are knowledgeable about products.
Good managers lead by example. The best role models I had were my father and my uncles. Good customer service is about being fair and honest.
After working at my family’s small business, I later had the opportunity to work with Sears, one of the nation’s biggest retailers.
After more than 100 years in business, Sears knows the value of customer service. When Arthur C. Martinez, Sears Chairman and CEO from 1995-2000, addressed a national Sears Dealer Store convention, his topic was on customer service. “The customer is everything,” he said.
Author T. Scott Gross also spoke to the Sears dealer group about his book, “Positively Outrageous Service.” Gross said in addition to everyday good service, businesses needed to “wow” a customer every once in a while.
Gross said such “wow” service would win customers for life and grow business, as the “wow” customer would repeat the story to friends and family.
I knew exactly what Gross was talking about.
I once sold a new lawn tractor to a good customer that came in every week. After a month’s absence, he came in and said he was recovering from hip surgery. I asked how he was feeling and he said everything was fine, except he had trouble pushing in the clutch on the manual-transmission tractor I had sold him.
“I can’t have one of my best customers unable to use a tractor I sold him,” I said. “Let’s trade your tractor for one with an automatic transmission.”
“How much will you give me for my year-old tractor?” he asked.
“One hundred percent of what you paid for it,” I answered.
The deal was struck. He got the tractor he needed. I got a customer for life and one that often tells a story about a store with great customer service.
Turlock native Jack Doo was a reporter and editor at The Modesto Bee for 27 years. For the past five years he has taught business at California State University, Stanislaus and recently received a three-year appointment at the Turlock campus. Growing up in a family business; he founded, owned and operated Sears of Turlock from 1996-2002. A real estate investor, Doo also writes a weekly real estate blog for a major Central Valley realty firm.