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Obviously customer service, but what else?

For 20 years, I have worked in the retail industry — on the floor, in management, bricks and mortar and ecommerce. Started on the retail floor and now I’m here. (subtle Drake reference, I am Canadian after all). For those 20 years, the focus on customer service has been the number one mission. Customer Service must be exceptional, it must be the benchmark for how the company grows. As a retailer, I expected this from my staff. Not to the extent that the customer was always right. But to the extent that our customers were human beings, and we should relate to them as such.

I teach frontline staff to consider themselves advocates for their customers. I encourage them to build relationships with customers, engage with them on topics outside of the product they are selling. In a physical retail space, if a customer walks into a shoe store to buy a pair of shoes, and someone on my team says. “Hi, Welcome to ABC, let me know if I can get you a size in anything”, they might as well be running their fingernails down a chalk board. OBVIOUSLY, you can get them a size. That’s the most fundamental aspect of your job.

The more important and challenging part of your job is to be able to quickly assess what type of customer they are, and how they would like to be treated. It’s the art and science of customer service. Meeting your customer where they are. Are they expecting you to be at their beck and call, or do they want to be left alone until they need help? Are they in a hurry, or leisurely browsing? Are they walking in with a return and are already defensive and getting ready to do battle? By being able to observe the clues, staff can offer exemplary customer service, without it being rote. And that is powerful.

As time has progressed, excellent customer service has become de facto. A company cannot succeed without it. Now it is time to focus on those employees. Those frontline staff, who’s job has been to deliver exemplary customer service. And the employees who support the front line, from the warehouse to the bookkeeper to the operations manager. How do we as leaders support them?

How do we prevent burnout, high turnover, apathy and disengaged employees? We do it by engaging them. It’s more than an annual staff picnic, more than a shower stall in the basement. It’s about aligning them with the company values and purpose. It’s about giving them a voice at the table. And for me it’s about coaching. Coaching not only the leader to be the leader they want to be, but coaching the connection between the leader and the employee, the employee and the customer. Coaching helps get everyone pointed in the same direction, it helps employees be fully present at work, it provides tools to prevent burnout and it elevates the purpose and vision of your organization.