Businesses track inventory, sales, margins, turns, customer count, and any number of other calculable data. We have point-of-sale technology, formulas and systems in place to tell us where our businesses are headed and based on the results we make adjustments. Some things are easy to measure as long as you use the right tools.
The customer service experience is one of the components of the garden center industry that’s eluded measurement, whether by choice, by not knowing what approach to take, by not being aware there are tools available or by thinking there is no need since “Our customer service is always great compared to other places.”
The firm Customer-1st has provided mystery shop services to the garden center industry for the past nine years through The Garden Center Group’s mystery shop program. This is where Carl Phillips, director of Customer-1st believes independent garden centers have the greatest opportunity.
“The biggest customer service opportunity I see in your industry relates to your customers having a very different experience than they would receive at other retailers,” Phillips says. “It’s true that many customers don’t want to be hounded by salespeople, but EVERY customer wants to be greeted with a welcome, a sincere hello or minimally a smile and eye contact by EVERY associate they come in contact with. Garden center associates are much more knowledgeable than the folks customers would encounter at a big box, but knowledge isn’t a plus if it’s not delivered in a helping way.”
He adds the best way to explain this point is through the phrase “customers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Many times customers come in looking for what they think is the right product for their particular situation. Chatting with them about their needs and making some additional recommendations is a great way to build rapport with a customer. The real factor in building a great customer experience is to ask them if you can follow up to see if the product you sold them solved their problem. If that happens you can bet the customer is going to be talking about that garden center and associate at the dinner table that night. More importantly, they will tell every friend or acquaintance they come in contact with who has a garden center need. Customer service is all about beating the customer’s expectations.
Set Training Standards
So how do we know we’ve beat the customer’s expectations? Measure the effectiveness of your customer service training program.
Whether you’re using a formalized training program such as Sid Raisch’s Horticultural Advantage “Marketplace Advantage” program, Kathryn Dager’s Profitivity, Inc. “Everyday Training Cards” system, Ian Baldwin’s “TLC – Think Like Customers” or you’ve developed your own customer service and sales training program, defining the goals, setting the standards and reinforcing expectations for the staff are the main components to improving a training program.
Shopping On The Sly
A mystery shopper program is a great way to measure training. With the Customer-1st program, for example, the mystery shop takes a “customer” from a phone call to the garden center, through a general assessment of the facility and maintenance of the products. The shopper measures general contact with employees in passing, seeking out an interaction with a specific employee and ending with a purchase.
Each segment is measured objectively with point values being assigned to yes/no questions, allowing for commentary at the end of each segment regarding their answers. At the end of the shop form the shopper has an opportunity to share any comments they want, including their raves and rants and suggestions for improving their shopping experience.
Customer service measurement should initially take place through a mystery shop scheduled prior to the implementation of the training to establish a benchmark. Many garden centers are surprised by the results of this initial shop.
If your training program is already in place, a mystery shop program can help define the areas that need more focused training. Knowing that the next customer could be “the mystery shopper” helps the staff remain aware of its attentiveness to every customer who visits the garden center. It also makes staff members more in tune with the customer service they receive in their daily shopping encounters outside of the garden center industry.
Regularly scheduled follow-up shops help monitor and maintain the higher standards of customer service that becomes part of your company’s culture.
“Catching the employee doing something right” is a term Carl Phillips has used when asked about the best way to share the mystery shop results with staff members. The positive approach toward recognition creates a stronger bond in building a team truly committed to “beating all the customer’s expectations.”
Individual rewards can include staff meeting recognition, cash or gift card bonuses or paid time off. Pizza or sub sandwich luncheons are always a welcome reward for the whole team for overall improvement on mystery shop scores.
Measuring the overall customer experience, the effectiveness of your training program and ultimately creating a way to build and bond a stronger customer-focused team are a few ways a mystery shop program can benefit your operation.
Next month we’ll walk through the shopping format and share comments from garden center shoppers’ visits.