One of the topics of conversation I had with Uncle Stan at the weekend was customer service. As well as painting pictures all his life he was also a hairdresser, and at one time he had a chain of shops. Indeed he still does cut the hair of his friends, so maybe I should change the word 'was', to 'is'. Stan has the gift of making people feel comfortable and special, without being overbearing and intimidating. Some of his customers started coming to him from a young age, they then got married and had their own children, which they also brought into Stan's shop for a haircut. So you can see that he really knows his stuff when it comes to keeping customers happy.
I have spoke briefly about my own two small businesses in previous posts, one was an introduction agency, and the other a mobile shop selling fancy goods and giftware. Both of these required a certain level of good customer service. It is lucky that I am a people person. I love meeting new people and am able to chat, and equally important I am able to listen to what they have to say. With face to face interaction, body language also comes into the equation. Eye contact, gesticulation with the hands, and relevance of the words which come out of their mouth, are other traits one has to master when dealing with customers. Nervousness is often over compensated with waffle. Saying that, I do waffle a bit myself, but I put that down to living alone, I only have the cats to talk to here, ha ha.
You know how it is, you get an inkling about someone when you first meet them. You watch their facial expressions, you take note about how they position their body, whether they invade your space by getting too close, or appear to be moving further away from you as you speak. I pick up on all these little signs, I think it's natural to.
Putting all these little idiosyncrasies into one package, it is normal to form an opinion about the person in front of you, it's a process of natural selection. You select who you want to spend time with and who you would rather walk away from. When I ran my businesses I was friendly towards everyone, after all they might buy something from me. When you run a people business it's a very fine line differentiating who is your friend and who is your customer. There are times when the line is blurred, and it is possible that someone can fit into both camps.
The customers who bought giftware from me were definitely customers. They paid for a product and took it away, I only ever saw them once or twice a year so there was never time to build up a friendship. Yes we had banter at the various shows I attended, and that made for a nice working environment, so there was a certain level of customer service there.
On the other hand, I saw my customers from the agency business almost every week at the social gatherings I organised. It was my job to meet and greet, to introduce members to each other, and to get the ball rolling for them if they appeared a little nervous. With this level of face to face interaction it was inevitable that many of them became my friends. In fact it was a brilliant way for me to widen my circle of friends.
The edges became very blurred, on the one hand they were my friends, on the other hand I had to ask them for money. There was a three monthly subscription to pay to cover my costs. Asking for money has never been my strong point, but I had to do it. Most were happy to pay, but I suspect some weren't. Understandable really, they had made new friends through the meetings, and gradually dropped out. That meant I had to continually advertise for new members. When running a business you need to build up strong relations with your customers, which is what Stan did. You need them to come back for more.
It was through these experiences that I learnt about my strengths and weaknesses. I was never going to win the Apprentice, I just didn't have the balls. What I did have the balls for though, was to drive a 75 tonne truck, ha ha.
Don't want to go off topic, I started this post with an idea in mind, it has already veered off at an angle, ha ha. Customer service, what is it? I once bemoaned the fact that I didn't like being hassled in shops where the assistant pounced on me almost as soon as I went through the door. A few people slated me for that, saying the poor assistant was only doing their job and was trying to earn a living. Everyone has their tolerance level, and I for one don't like the pestering aspect that some assistants display, in some instances it is verging on bullying. And me being my stroppy self, will always walk away from that.
Transferring customer service skills to the internet is a different kettle of fish, you don't have the facial expressions and the body language to evaluate. The on line seller only has the basic tools of keyboard, photographs, and videos to assist them in pulling in their customers. Selling on the internet is supposed to make it easier, and it is in some cases, where the product sold is based on an item which is almost identical to what you can buy in a shop. A fridge is a fridge is a fridge.
Selling yourself on the internet is a lot harder. Someone who is good with words can tell you what they think you want to read. They want you to buy into them. A word perfect sales pitch is easily spottable, is that a word, ha ha. But, you cannot see their face, so you are never sure if what they are saying is the truth. Insincerity has the effect of turning me off, can't stand bullshit, creepiness, and false impressions. To suss out the genuine from the fake, consistency is the key. Give it time, read read read. You can then decide whether you want to walk away or stick with it.
What has all this to do with money saving, you may ask. Well, good customer service is what you get when someone recognises you as a fellow human being and does not try and rip you off. Good customer service is about letting the customer walk away in the hope that they might one day come back. It is not about grovelling, bullying, pestering, and demanding. It is up to you to form your own opinions on what you see and what you read. Look behind the facade of advertising. Some of it is in your face, but there is such a lot which is subtle and devious. When money is tight you need to learn the difference between those who are desperate to relieve you of your cash to line their own pockets, and those who do not ask for anything in return for your friendship. It's up to you to look after your own interests, no one will do it for you.
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