AUSTIN — When you’re in the retail world, you probably don’t need to ask questions about where you got your products, how they’re made, what kind of price you can get, or how long they last.
But sometimes, that doesn’t mean you’re asking questions you shouldn’t be asking, and when it comes to customer service — even when you’re not a customer — questions are best left unanswered.
For the majority of customers, the best way to keep them happy is to just be the best.
It’s a strategy that works, but it’s also one that has been criticized as too little and too late.
“People feel like they’re being asked too much,” said Mary Jo Piven, senior vice president of consumer insights at the Consumer Reports Consumer Product Ratings Council.
“I think the answer is: Don’t ask.
If you want to get customers to stay, ask them about the products they use and about the service they expect.”
Consumer Reports says it’s the least customer-facing of all of the research companies we asked to test.
In a recent survey of 1,000 retail employees, for example, consumers said the company had the most customer service questions in the entire industry.
The only thing that didn’t rank high was how often they asked questions about products they bought or the services they used.
Consumer Reports found that more than two-thirds of respondents said they wanted more information from the company, and nearly three-quarters said they asked the questions because they wanted to find out what was wrong.
“It’s really hard to answer a customer when they’re asking about a product,” said Piven.
“You can’t just assume they’re going to know something that you don’t.
And sometimes that can be the difference between a successful experience and a bad one.”
In fact, Piven said, she believes customer service is the least important thing to customers about retail.
It doesn’t matter if the products are good or not, she said, they still want to know about the services the company offers, and they want to see if the company’s products are covered under their warranty.
“The customer is still going to want to hear about the product and its condition and its warranty,” she said.
“That’s how the customer knows it’s been cared for.”
If you’re a retailer, there are plenty of reasons to keep your customers happy.
It may be cheaper than buying the product outright, or if you’re running a smaller-scale store, you might be able to keep customers from shopping elsewhere.
There may be a greater chance of a repeat customer if you offer an extended warranty, a service that protects customers from a defective product or a service they’ve never used before.
And if you’ve got a large, established presence in the marketplace, you may be able keep customers loyal to your brand and keep them buying your products.
But Piven also believes it’s important to keep customer service at the top of your list of priorities.
“When you have a customer in your store who is really invested in the brand and the brand’s ability to succeed, you really want to make sure that they have a great experience there,” she explained.
“In a store like Macy’s, for instance, the customer service department really has a lot to offer customers, and if they’re not satisfied, they can leave Macy’s and shop elsewhere.”
Piven is quick to say she’s not recommending anyone follow her advice.
“If you want the customer to stay and feel good about your brand, you need to stay the course,” she concluded.
“But if you can offer a service you think is really good for the customer, and the customer has been really invested and is looking forward to doing business with you for a long time, that’s a really great place to be.”
Pivotal for good customer service isn’t a single company.
There’s the individual store, which can vary widely in the number of employees it employs and the types of products they carry.
In some places, a smaller business may be better able to offer service to a wider range of customers.
For example, in a small, independent grocery store in Dallas, Texas, a few months ago, the store’s service department had a few different options available.
They had a customer service manager who could offer tips on how to get a new order delivered and a salesperson who could help customers make purchases.
The customer service reps could even make purchases in the store, Pivontas said.
In other places, the number and type of employees may be limited.
In California, for one, there is no national definition of a small business, and some states limit the number or type of jobs a small shop may have.
In such a case, the small business may not have the same kinds of resources to offer services as a large one.
And that’s when a small store