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Tips for getting better customer service during the holidays

(ARA) - You've made your holiday list and checked it twice, but what happens when the salesperson helping you is naughty, not nice? Crowded stores, long lines, low inventory and cranky shoppers rushing to find that perfect holiday gift can often lead to a "perfect storm" of bad service.

That's why many retailers are ensuring that they have service quality systems in place to avoid the typical holiday mishaps between shoppers and service staff, according to ASQ (American Society for Quality,, which provides service quality training for many industries, including retail.

"The top four causes of customer dissatisfaction are out of stock items, discontinued items, returns and shipping charges," says John Goodman, ASQ customer service expert and vice chairman of TARP, the world's premier customer experience agency. "These are issues that are easily resolvable if sales staff have the right tools and training."

Bath & Body Works, for example, provides its staff with training to handle these kinds of complaints. Its sales staff takes steps such as maintaining eye contact with customers during every step of the sale. They are also trained in how to detect and respond to unspoken needs and are told to "treat a return like a sale" because a properly handled return will often move the customer to buy something else.

To avoid out of stock issues, Bath & Body Works also carries a bigger inventory of merchandise than other similar retailers and when they do run into issues with a discontinued product, staff can provide customers with an "I'm sorry for your disappointment" gift card.

Best Buy, a popular shopping destination for electronic gifts, is ranked highest in customer satisfaction among national and multi-regional major appliance retailers, according to a new report by J.D. Power and Associates. One key reason is that they make customer service training a priority.

In addition to a rigorous certification process, employees are well-educated on complicated products and solutions, enabling them to better help customers, says Mike Fisher, senior director of Lean Six Sigma for Best Buy's corporate campus in Richfield, Minn., which includes an ASQ member store.

The store's TRUST model ensures that employees thank consumers for coming into the store, respect their opinions, understand their needs, solve challenges together and thank and support the ongoing consumer relationship.

"Our goal is to put more sales staff or 'blue shirts' on the sales floor instead of handling paper work and other duties," Fisher says. "That way they are immediately available to assist consumers with their questions and needs."

While many retailers will make an extra effort to ensure excellent customer service this holiday season, Goodman suggests that customers take these steps to help ensure a positive sales experience:

* Get to know the sales clerks at your favorite stores. This ensures that you will be in the loop regarding stores sales and events. A salesperson who knows you may also be more apt to help if a problem does arise.

* Research store policies before you buy. Being aware of policies regarding cash refunds or sale merchandise returns can help you avoid problems later on.

So what happens when you run into a problem? Goodman offers these tips for successfully handling service complaints.

* Take three deep breaths - when you are upset you may not think clearly and therefore often don't present your case logically.

* Tell the company rep that you know that the problem is not their fault - this reduces their defensiveness.

* After outlining the facts, state exactly what you want the rep to do for you - if you don't they might go off in the wrong direction in developing a response.

* Don't ask for cash compensation for your time - companies can almost never do that, but they can give you credit toward your bill.

* Never use profanity - most reps are authorized to hang up on you if you do - and it is not fair to the rep who did not cause the problem.

* If you have been a long-term customer, point that out but don't exaggerate - employees can often access your actual purchase history.

The simplest and most important thing you can do is to recognize good service when you receive it by remembering to say thank you and even letting the sales person's supervisor know.  

Courtesy of ARA Content




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