It was just this week that I needed to return a pair of lifestyle sneakers that I had purchased a few weeks before. I bought these shoes in anticipation of a vacation away to Europe. A frequent traveler will know the value of having a decent pair of walking shoes! We took a weekend away in the mountains and I thought; what better time to start breaking in these shoes. So with the dog in the car, new shoes on my feet we began the one hour drive to a beautiful mountain village. You can imagine my surprise when we arrived and I noticed that my new (never worn before) shoes were broken! Those new shoes spent the weekend on the cabin floor while I pondered how I would return these shoes when I no longer had the receipt or the box for the shoes. The next part of this story tells about how empowering your people create a lasting memory and a lifelong customer.

I walked into the store and stood in the line that was several people deep. I watched each of the customer service representatives speak to everyone as if they were the only one in the store; the only one that mattered. I approached the desk where a 20 something year old asked me how my day was. I explained my predicament with the shoes and how I did not have the receipt or the box anymore. She heard my story about the drive to the mountain town while she examined the shoe and all the while I am in my head preparing for a battle to either have my $74.00 returned or exchange the shoes for another pair. You can imagine the shock on my face when she said; would you like to replace the shoes? Would you like the same style or something different? After I composed myself and calmed the voice in my head I said, Thank you. I would love the same style. Color doesn’t matter, I would just like a comfortable shoe to cruise around in (and well, let’s be honest, it needs to be cute too!).

This whole transaction took less than 10 minutes. There was no manager that needed to be called, no papers to fill out, no transactions with my debit card. Just a quick exchange and out the door I went, a happy customer with a new pair of shoes for our European Adventure!

I shared this story with a few friends over the last few days wondering if someone else may have had a similar experience. Sure enough, this same store has treated others the same way and every person said they are a lifetime customer.

So what is it that makes a strong culture of customer service? There are a lot of opinions on this and obviously there are perceptions that play in to those opinions. What I have found throughout my career and my lifelong role as a consumer is that the organizations that have a strong company culture generally provide some of the best customer service. Each team has a clear expectation of the mission, vision and values of the company; the leadership team is clear about the expectations and the goals. There is a strategic plan that is communicated at all levels and everyone is working towards a common goal and understands the importance of each role in the plan. It is not enough to state you are a customer service orientated company. Your teams need to have a strong understanding of what that means to you, as a company.  I believe, most importantly the organization empowers their team members to make the best choice for the customer in front of them. I am sure this may scare a lot of business owners; though I have come to believe that if your company is clear on the ultimate goal, the leadership team is open and transparent, that your team will in fact make the best decision for the customer and the business. After all, without the customer we wouldn’t have a job to do!

Elizabeth Callaway / Human Resource Specialist / PEO Canada