Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

Drink the new ‘Cool-aid’

June 29, 2011

I’ve been a huge fan of Apple computers since I first started drinking the “Cupertino Cool-aid” back in college, but it’s only been since the company launched its retail stores that I completely bought into the Cult of Jobs. The App Store. OS X. iMacs. iPhones. iPads. I’m hooked.
Every time I have to stop by the Apple store for something, I’m not-so-subtly reminded just how great a retail experience can be. Apple’s customer service is now the standard to which I hold all other retailers, from powersports to gardening supplies, and most of them fail. (Trader Joe’s is the only other major exception.)

Like many budding curmudgeons, I find myself having less and less patience for poor customer service and rude or indifferent employees. I don’t expect to be pampered, and I know some retail stores by design cannot match Apple’s example, but how about offering just a smidgeon of help, with a smile? Owners and management, shouldn’t your personnel training be geared toward making your customers comfortable, maybe even happy, about spending their money with you? This doesn’t always seem the case.

Apple seems to have perfected the art of retail. Never in the history of spending money to buy goods has a company made it so effortless and downright enjoyable to spend money to buy goods.

And this is where Apple intersects with the powersports business.

There was a story in The Wall Street Journal in June talking about the success — and recipe behind it — of Apple’s retail stores. The story reports some incredible numbers: Apple’s annual retail sales per sq. ft. are $4,406 (minus online sales), and its 326 stores brought in more customers in a single quarter than the 60 million people who visited Disney’s four biggest theme parks in 2010.

An obvious aspect of this success, the story says, is the must-have clamor for Apple’s popular products. Seems these are items that people absolutely want to have. After all, does anybody really need an iPad? Likely a few, but everybody wants one.

The other instrument of this success, according to WSJ reporters Yukari Iwatani Kane and Ian Sherr, is that Apple is on the leading edge of customer service and store design. Jobs and company grenaded the idea of what an electronics store should be (think back to the days of CompUSA) and pioneered what would become the Apple layout.

A major point: Products are staged to highlight how they could be used, not just stacked on a shelf or hung from a hook.

A second major point: Sales workers are extensively trained not to sell, but to “help customers solve problems” by understanding their needs, even the ones they don’t know they have. They’re schooled on Apple’s principles of customer service and must shadow experienced employees before they’re even allowed to interact with customers. Even the hiring process is selective, often requiring two rounds of interviews with potential employees quizzed about their skills and passion for Apple’s products.

As the reporters point out, specialty retailers like Apple often invest heavily in training. What makes Apple different is that its employees are passionate about the company’s products and are willing to learn.

Hmm … let’s see, what other industry has retail stores whose employees are enthusiasts of its products, and are selling these same products to customers who are just as enthusiastic? And which industry is selling items that are more want than need to people who really, really want them?

Can’t quite get a bead on it right now, but I’m guessing it’s one that’s not exactly steeped in best retail practices and could stand to learn a thing or two from one that is.

Thinking, thinking, thinking …

Dennis Johnson
Editor in Chief
dennis.johnson@dealernews.com

Converting Buyers To Repeat Customers

September 27, 2010

Customers For Life: How To Turn that One-Time Buyer
Into a Lifetime Customer

How much would you pay to acquire a lifetime customer? One who would come  back to your dealership time after time to buy things, year after year? How about $15 and a few hours of your time? I thought so.

All you have to do is read a small paperback book, or, better yet, pick up a bunch of copies for your key employees. The book is the bestselling classic, “Customers For Life“, by Carl Sewell and Paul B.Brown. It also includes  a brief but informative section by management consultant Tom Peters. The book is published by Doubleday, initially in 1990 and reprinted in 2002. But it’s still valuable today, two decades later. It might be the best investment of a hundred bucks or so in staff training that you ever made. I don’t work for Amazon, but here’s where you can read other reviews and order the book on-line, if you wish.

The easy-to-read paperback contains 41 chapters in 210 pages. But you don’t have to read the entire book, front to back. Pick out chapters that are important to you, and start there. “Customers” is written by Carl Sewell, a Dallas car dealer, who is one of the most successful sellers of luxury cars in the country. His associate, Paul Brown, is a former writer and editor at Business Week, Forbes, Financial World, and Inc., and a specialist in customer service. These guys know what they are talking about and they know how to say it in plain, simple language that’s easy to grasp.

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Customer Service: A Tale of Two Companies

September 17, 2010

Amazon.com, A Winner. Target Stores, A Loser.

This is a story about customer service and how the same problem was handled by two different retailers, one a leading bricks and mortar operation and the other, an on-line business.

I’m talking about Amazon.com, Inc., the on-line business headquartered in Seattle,  and Target Corporation, based in Minneapolis.

Here’s my tale of how the two major retailers, using totally different business models, provided service to a customer, me, when I had a problem with a defective product. Amazon, the on-line retailer, did it correctly, beyond my greatest expectations, and will continue to receive lots of my business. Target, the hugely successful bricks and mortar retailer and one of my favorite local places to shop, completely dropped the ball, to the point of rudeness and stupidity, and has lost a big chunk of my business forever.

On June 24, 2010, I purchased a Kindle digital reader from my local Target store in West St. Paul, Minnesota.  I paid $189 and change for it and was happy to get it. I added a nifty leather carrying case to protect it and was off and running. The service I received from Target electronics people was helpful, and everything was good. I spent money with my local retailer, and I got the product I wanted at the price I wanted, all without the problems sometimes encountered with on-line purchases of sophisticated electronic products. Life was good.

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Checking in with Tucker Rocky’s Steve Johnson

August 15, 2010

I didn’t have a chance to participate in Tucker Rocky’s national sales meeting in Texas last month, so I tracked down TR”s chief Steve Johnson to get his reaction to the five-day event and to see what he had going at the big Fort Worth-based national distributor.

Steve Johnson

The show was different this year, by design. More aimed at training and business improvement than entertainment and relationship-building. “This show was a lot more about product and selling product,” said Johnson. “It was less about fun and more about dealer training and how to run a good dealership.”

In Johnson’s view, the participating vendors and dealers “were more than positive, they were engaged” in what was going on. “A lot of people are still excited to be in this industry. But there’s a realization that there’s a new norm; it may come back a bit, but it’s going to be at a slower pace. You can’t expect 10%-15% compound growth. You have to hunker down and run your business as best you can. People were fully engaged; more so than ever before.”

Dennis Johnson, editor-in-chief of Dealernews magazine visited the show and did a nice job of reporting on the event in the August issue of the magazine. I’m not going to duplicate his efforts here, but Steve covered some interesting points in our conversation, many focusing on dealer training and customer service.

Big Push On Customer Service

As we chatted, Steve told me a story about customer service that came from his previous experience in the foodservice business. To paraphrase his story: There once was a large bakery that produced custom products for a high-end local grocery store. The big thing was fresh birthday cakes, made the same day and featuring custom greetings. It was an important item for the retailer and produced nice margins for both the bakery and the retailer. The cakes were always delivered on time, the names were spelled correctly, and everyone was happy. But one day, there was a mistake; a cake didn’t get produced for a birthday party that day. The customer went crazy, of course; what was she going to do for the party that afternoon?

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Customer Service Isn’t Dead

April 10, 2010

It’s Alive and Blossoming at Your Apple Store

It’s easy today to wring your hands and really despair over the state of customer service by America’s retailers. Plenty of examples of disinterested, couldn’t-care-less service practices pop up every day. But things aren’t as bad as they might seem. Actually, customer service is offered at a very high level in some places. Just visit your friendly Apple computer store and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s refreshing if you’re a consumer and educational if you’re a retailer.

First, a disclaimer: I’ve been an Apple guy since I bought my first computer 25 years ago. It was a MacIntosh SE, the third machine in the revolutionary MacIntosh line. I never regretted that purchase, nor have I regretted any of the many Apple purchases I’ve made since then. Today, I’m a dedicated iPhone user; in fact, I do almost as much work for Dealernews and its website on my phone as I do on my laptop.

Back to my point: Apple has two things going for it: It knows how to meet market needs and it knows how to take care of its customers. Let’s talk about customers.

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