JEWELERS DELIVER CHRISTMAS GIFTS in blizzards without the convenience of sleigh and flying reindeer. They whip up custom orders faster than the speed of a laser. They leap headlong into the role of emergency ring bearer. These tales are the stuff of company legend for independent retailers. But the Henderson family of Bend, OR, has a story that really stands out.
Annette Henderson had gone into labor in December at the same time that her husband, Ron Henderson, needed a finished piece of jewelry delivered to a customer.
“So he asked my mom to deliver it (the jewelry) on the way to the hospital and that he would meet her there,” says their daughter Natasha Henderson, manager of Saxon’s Fine Jewelers. Jewelry delivery made, Annette was driving over the railroad tracks on the way to the hospital when her water broke.
All was well, though, because the second “delivery” took place in the hospital. And the baby — Natasha — joined the family business and works with both of her parents at Saxon’s. “We even get along for the most part,” Natasha says. “And my mom didn’t kill my dad over that. She hasn’t yet, anyway.”
OK, they win, right!?
Beyond the heroics, though, what are you doing to deliver extreme customer service every day? And why is that so important in 2019?
Sometimes it seems there are not enough hours in the day to keep customers happy. Fifty seven percent of respondents to INSTORE’s 2018 Big Survey work more than 45 hours per week. Eric Ohanian of Eric Ohanian & Sons Co. in Boston is one of them. “I am meeting two customers on the way home tonight after working 11 hours,” he says. “We go the extra mile almost daily. I do believe it is the only reason we are still in business. Giving that extra level of service is all that sets us apart from the big box stores or the Internet.”
Besides devoting time to it, other keys to offering extreme customer service include making it personal, building relationships and developing a company culture focused on the customer.
Author and retail business strategist Bob Phibbs says simply that people who feel they matter buy more. If someone has made the effort to drive to your store, they expect to find something new and personal for them. Selling has to meet those needs and not be just about clerking or showing products.
Natasha Henderson with her parents, Ron and Annette of Bend, OR.
“To compete in 2019, you’ve got to make an emotional brand connection in your stores,” Phibbs explains. “If you have a ruthless attention to that, you’ll be fine. It’s time now to get sales training, to keep role-playing and to keep trying to figure out how to create an exceptional experience in your store.”
That means training for consistency.
“Most retailers think training is something you did already — like you changed your socks this morning. But training has to be a culture. When I work with great sales groups every day, there’s a focus; they’re looking at new products and role-playing. Instead of letting people sit behind the counter and talk about what happened on Game Of Thrones last night, keep a dialog going.”
The stakes are high because the customer experience — great or disappointing — has wider repercussions than ever before. “As soon as I walk out of your store, I can rave or rant about you,” Phibbs says. “Nobody had a microphone before like they do now.”
How to Make Someone’s Day
Consultant Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts says it’s the customer’s definition of extreme that matters — not yours. “Often,” she says, “the things we think of as over the top are really little more than what today’s experienced luxury consumer expects … and there’s nothing ‘extreme’ about simply meeting expectations.”
The standard for extreme service is most often set outside of the jewelry industry, she says. The consistency provided by high-end coffee brands or the experience of taking delivery of a new luxury car, for example, are good places to start looking for ways to surprise and delight your customer.
In other words, pay attention to good service you receive in all aspects of your life and let it inform what you do in your store.
Consultant Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group recently experienced amazing customer service at a restaurant in Tezza sul Brenta, Italy.
“I have some vendors visiting from London, and we all went out to dinner at a little local pizzeria. We got to talking and solving the problems of the world, and suddenly we realized that we were the only people left in the restaurant. For how long? Who knows! I went up front to pay, and the owner and his wife were sitting behind the counter looking very tired, but patient. I looked over at the door, and saw they had closed an hour and a half prior! They had cheerfully served more wine and checked in on us without once suggesting it was time for us to pack up and leave. Needless to say, I will be going back to that restaurant and bringing all my friends!”
Hill, in a recent blog post, outlined how important building a strong positive business culture is in providing that kind of exceptional service. Excellent customer service can be very difficult to find, even in the luxury sector, she says. In fact, it is one of the hardest things to do.
“You can’t automate it. You can’t script it or cookie-cutter it. You can’t ensure it with policy or rules. Excellent customer service is about people, and people run on motivation.”
To create a company culture that will nurture and serve customers, you must have a culture that nurtures and serves employees. That doesn’t mean coddling. Employees want to be treated as professionals, with dignity and respect. Study after study demonstrates that employees who are trusted and expected to perform admirably will rise to the occasion.
Andrea Riso of Talisman Collection, El Dorado Hills, CA, says her culture is to do everything possible to satisfy customers, including firing staff who don’t get it. “I’ve driven for hours, shown up at weddings, loaned jewelry when something is not done in time (rarely do I ever miss a deadline), give the jewelry for free if the customer had a bad experience with our staff, fired staff, taken calls and texts 24/7/365 (and I do mean 365), fixed things for free pre-wedding for people who are not my customers!”
20 TIPS FOR OUTSTANDING
MAKE IT PERSONAL
Barry Moltz, small-business consultant, speaker and author, says online retailers are offering a kind of “faux personalization” that has become an expectation. When he signs on to Amazon.com, for example, the site greets him by name and knows what he’s bought in the past and what he might like to buy in the future. So, if you can’t remember all of your customers’ names and everything they might like or have ever wished for or purchased, collect all the information you can from your customers and get your POS system up to speed to do the work for you. “Amazon always remembers who you are, but does your local retail store?” Moltz asks.
LET THEM TOUCH THE STUFF
John Carter, CEO of Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, IL, installed a “wedding-ring playground” — a custom-made bar-height table to display bridal sample lines from vendors. It allows engagement-ring shoppers to try out many different styles in a relaxed setting. “It’s helping start the conversation with the client,” Carter says. “It’s become a way to break the ice, hear about their likes and preferences, and then we can delve into all the options.”
At Jack Lewis Jewelers, shoppers are invited to play with sample rings at the wedding-ring playground.
OFFER OMNI-CHANNEL SUPPORT
Ensure the customer has a seamless experience no matter the channel they use. If you’re cultivating e-commerce and you have a full-time social-media or marketing associate, consider chatting — offering customers online help in real time. (This can also be outsourced to a larger company.) Helping a customer on your website used to mean providing an e-mail address or listing the company phone number, says Moltz, author of Bam: Delivering Customer Service In A Self-Service World. “Real-time chat is quickly becoming a requirement to help your online clients. Can video chat be far behind, for an even more personal touch?” If you offer live-chat support, list the hours on your website so that users know when they can and can’t contact you.
SET UP A GENIUS JEWELER BAR
Daniel Pink, author of Drive, suggests a jewelry store version of the Apple Store Genius Bar. “Clueless customers — guys like me who don’t know their amethyst from their elbow — would flock to ask questions of your jewelry genius,” Pink says.
Some retailers have found a niche with appointment-only businesses, but it’s a nice thing to offer your favorite customers whatever your business model. Once you’ve established a relationship with a busy client, don’t leave your future availability to the chance your schedules happen to mesh. Let them make an appointment when it’s convenient to them and set aside time on your calendar to make the shopping experience special.
Martin Shanker, professional trainer and president of Shanker Inc. in New York City, says that many luxury buyers would purchase more if they could be less visible when making those high-end choices. But retailers often don’t factor in the need for discretion in the sales process. “Consequently, clients are making purchases online or in cities other than where they live,” Shanker says. “Luxury sales teams need to be extra sensitive in identifying these types of buyers and take steps to offer them increased privacy.” Consider inviting them to a more private room or viewing area, away from the selling floor. “The trend to be less conspicuous has not stopped the luxury customer from making large purchases. Therefore, sales professionals need to be cautious about misinterpreting a desire for privacy as a lack of interest in buying and unintentionally trading the business down.”
Take a close look at customer feedback and identify the main three to five recurring complaints, whether they’re delivered in person, by phone or in an online review. Then take steps to make sure they stop recurring. Consider the feedback you receive from your customers “free customer service consulting.” This is info of great value, not an interruption of your day, says Forbes.com. What could be better than to get information directly from your customers? And yet, responding to it, reviewing it, acting on it can feel like an interruption of our work if we don’t carefully check our attitude.
HIRE THE BEST
It’s very important to have a qualified person with the right “diamond DNA” to make create a positive impression, says David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy. Research has shown the best diamond sales associates share similar traits: They are neither submissive nor aggressive, but tend toward slight extroversion, and their patience levels are in the median range (they can wait to close a sale without coming across as pushy). Once you have the right people out there, offer sales training, product knowledge and support, and make sure they are not spending their time changing batteries when they should be using their skills to greet customers and close sales
UNLOCK THEIR IMAGINATION
Chuck Kuba of Iowa Diamond in Des Moines, IA, came from a background in the performing arts before returning to the family’s traditional line of work and opening his own jewelry store. The two really aren’t so different: one is played out on the boards, the other in the imagination, says Kuba, who is a big advocate of using the “theater of the mind” to unlock a customer’s dreams, desires and aspirations. “Nothing can compare with asking a woman to close her eyes and imagine the perfect engagement ring and then describe it to you,” says Kuba. “It’s magic.”
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Try out the role of counselor when selling or handling returns, if the situation calls for it. Say, “Tell me more.” It puts customers at ease, suggests author Harry Friedman in No Thanks, I’m Just Looking. And if they’re unhappy with a situation, it defuses the tension. If they’re not sure what they want, it will help them reach a conclusion.
REALLY LISTEN TO WHAT THEY WANT
“I want the client to dream his or her best dream, then I want to know the budget,” says Jo Goralski of the Jewelry Mechanic in Oconomowoc, WI. “I learned early on that if I design based on budget, no one wins. A young couple came into the studio. She wanted a yellow emerald-cut diamond in a split shank covered with diamonds, and a wedding band for him, and he had a $1,500 budget. Knowing the look she was going for, I found a semi-mount with melee diamonds. I found a killer soft yellow emerald-cut sapphire, and my shop hand-forged him a wedding band. With the sales tax, it came in at just under $1,500. They have been married over 10 years and have three kids, and they have always remembered we treated their dream with respect.”
BE VERY GOOD AT GETTING THEM TO TALK
“If they’re shopping together for an engagement ring, you need to ask her a lot of questions about style, fashion, what she’s seen, what she liked, if she has a photo on her phone,” says Shane Decker. “Too many people get defensive when they bring in a lab report from Blue Nile or James Allen or another online retailer. Say, ‘I’m so glad you did some research!’ If they bring that in, it means they haven’t bought it yet. The Internet doesn’t deliver an experience. So give them an incredible experience, get them talking about their engagement, their lives. This is something that’s among the top 10 most incredible memories of a woman’s life.”
It’s tough even to tell anymore who has money to spend. “They don’t just come in and say I’ve got 20 grand to spend on my wife,” says Bob Phibbs. “And they don’t dress like they did in the ‘60s to buy jewelry; they may come in in flip flops and shorts. Judging has to stop.”
MANAGE EVERY FACET OF THE EXPERIENCE
“This is my favorite exercise to do with stores,” says consultant Joel Hassler of VonHasle Jewelry Advisers. “At a staff meeting, give each associate a piece of paper and have them write down as many things as they can about your store where your customer interacts with your business. Then, similar to the game Scattergories, go around the room and get a point for each thing you have on your list that no one else had. Put a $20 gift card on the line for the winner. The point you’re trying to make is that there are way more things than you might think of, almost an unending list. The door handles, the pens, the cases, the displays, the volume of your hold music, the fonts/colors in your advertising, the ceiling tiles, the burned out light bulb, the string on your bags, etc. It’s not so much about micromanaging, but over-managing everything that leaves an impression on your customer, subtle or not.”
The fact that customers want to be intimately involved in the creation of a piece of jewelry can be considered either an annoyance or an opportunity. Collins Jewelers in Dallas, GA, opts for the latter view, starting with taking the customer out to lunch to go over their renderings and then involving them in every step of production. “One customer wanted to pour his own gold, so we took care of all the details and made that possible, and he was ecstatic,” says owner Marty Collins.
SUPPORT THEIR CHARITIES
“We open our doors to any of our customers who are involved with a charity and host a fundraising event at the store,” says Tracy Lewis of Glennpeter Jewelers Diamond Centre in Albany, NY. “We hire a caterer, bartender and cleaning crew. They bring their supporters, charge at the door and make money on raffle items.” They’ve helped raise $3 million for charity that way while establishing valuable relationships with clients and prospective clients.
At Von Bargen Jewelers, each location recruits a customer advisory board that provides valuable feedback.
GREET & GUIDE
At the Diamond Vault in Sarasota, FL, a concierge greets guests upon arriving, offers a beverage (beer, wine, champagne, coffee, etc.) and helps direct them to the appropriate person or area in the store — i.e. service/repair, vintage/estate jewelry, engagement rings, fine jewelry, etc. This approach can cut down on the “just looking” response since the concierge isn’t directly trying to sell them something. At the Diamond Vault, the concierge, who is a graduate gemologist, is also equipped with a computer and a phone and can easily answer customer-service questions, no matter how technical they may be.
PULL UP A CHAIR
Treat your customers as if you’re opening your home to them, says Elle Hill of Hill & Co., or as if you’ve invited them to a party. That means providing comfortable seating and offering them a drink, at least, along with a sincere welcoming smile and acknowledgment of their presence. Consider your level of hospitality. Would you offer your guests a glass of Champagne? Brownies on a silver tray? Wine and cheese? And consider the overall impression: Is the scent of your store inviting (cinnamon, cookies)? Or is it overpowering?
START A CLUB
Shoppers feel special if they are included in a special sub-set of customers. Invite your best customers to join a VIP club, then invite them to exclusive trunk shows and offer special deals. Or put together an advisory board of well-connected customers who offer suggestions on what they’d like to see in your cases. For example, in Vermont, each Von Bargen Jewelers location has its own customer advisory board, made up of savvy, fashionable women, who meet quarterly to discuss inventory, merchandising and marketing. The store serves food and beverages, and participants receive gift bags, including $100 gift certificates to the store.
THEY ARE NOT JUST FINE
“No one should ever ask customers any question that will result in the answer, ‘Fine.’ That’s an acronym for Feelings I’m Not Expressing,” says Scott Ginsberg, author of How To Be That Guy And The Approachable Salesperson. “Instead, employees should ask only open-ended, passion-finding questions like, ‘What keeps you busy outside of work?’ and ‘What was the best part about your week?’ The question, ‘So, what do you do?’ should be outlawed completely. Because your job isn’t to learn what people do — it’s to learn who they are. Only then can you suggest the right jewelry to fit their individual truth.”