Celebrate Customer Service Week with Helpful Tips

In celebration of National Customer Service Week, Oct. 3-7, we’re sharing tips that Ace Hardware associates use to start conversations, build lasting relationships and handle difficult conversations:

  1. Seize the Moment. Never switch onto autopilot when you’re working with a customer. Always ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now going to make this customer want to come back?”
  2. Ask Open-Ended Questions.Asking, “Can I help you?” often invites a “no” answer. To develop customer relationships, start a conversation with questions like “What can I help you find?” or “How can I help you?”
  3. Ask the Extra Question.Many times, an Ace customer may come in asking for a specific part. A perfect way for associates to open up dialogue is to ask, “Out of curiosity, what are you using it for?” Extra questions, that show your interest in a customer, can reveal an opportunity to help them find an alternate product that works better for them and builds trust that leads to a longer term relationship.
  4. The Customer is Not Always Right, but…even when a customer is wrong, they’re still your customer. Let them be wrong with the dignity and respect they deserve. Give them the benefit of the doubt, avoid arguing or debating and try to identify what the problem really is.
  5. Master the Art of Recovery. Problems or complaints are opportunities in disguise. Instead of arguing about who’s right or wrong, work to renew your customer’s confidence in you with four steps: Apologize; Take action with an acceptable temporary solution; Make a promise to resolve the problem; Keep your promise.

It’s really about helping your customers get what they want, instead of trying to get what you want. When your focus is on building relationships, instead of conducting transactions, you’ll win customers for life.

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Creating Happy Customers on a $5 Budget

Legendary customer service stories usually have one thing in common – an engaged employee who was empowered to deliver amazing customer service.

One great tactic is the $5 Lifeboat. The idea empowers an associate to spend up to five dollars to solve a problem without prior approval (use whatever dollar increment is reasonable in your organization).

In ‘Amaze Every Customer Every Time,’ author Shep Hyken describes how one store owner demonstrated the idea:

An Ace Hardware customer was letting a cashier know how disappointed he was that his rebate checks were taking so long to arrive. The store owner overheard, opened the register and handed the customer cash to cover the two five dollar rebates.

“If the rebate check comes in, and you want to swing by the store and give us back the ten dollars, that would be fine,” he said.

After that, the pleasantly surprised customer made a point of finding the owner and saying hello every time he came into the store. The store had a customer for life.

To create a similar policy in your workplace, think about what decisions you could empower your team to make on their own. How does the cost of those decisions compare to the value of creating lifetime customers? Set clear guidelines, and make sure your team understands the value of your customers. Then, share examples that illustrate the spirit of the policy. You’ll  empower your team to make decisions that build better relationships.

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Note to Leaders: Keep the Ideas Coming

Great leaders know, the next big idea could come from anywhere in an organization. You can support an innovative, idea-friendly working culture, but how can you be sure you’re not missing the next great idea when you can’t be everywhere in your organization? Here are three ways:

  1. Never criticize an idea in a public setting. EVER. The number of ideas your organization gets from employees depends on the way management responds to mediocre ideas.
  2. Make it easy and informal to share. Many retail stores and restaurants use a daily huddle to collect ideas, share solutions and boost morale. How would a “team huddle” or “Lunch with the Boss” event look in your organization?
  3. Don’t take credit for someone else’s breakthrough. Recognize the ideas …and where they came from.
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How To Be the Best Place to Buy

Emotionally engaged customers are the holy grail of any service-oriented organization. Our speakers have a lot to say to leaders on the topic, so we took a look at what they’ve suggested at recent keynotes and workshops and noticed a recurring bit of advice:

To be the best place to buy, be the best place to work.

Offering benefits and work perks, although very valuable, are like offering great products at a fair price. Your customers, or team members, can pretty easily find another place that offers the same thing.

To create an amazing place to work, make your team feel valued. Here are five ways:

  1. Recognize good behavior
  2. Share your vision
  3. Ask for their input
  4. Train them
  5. Trust them

Customers reward you with their business, loyalty and referrals if they feel cared for. If you want to take care of customers, make sure your team knows how important they are. It could be the one thing you offer that your competitors don’t.

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Winning Customer Service Tips Series: Part 2 of 2

We selected 10 customer service tips (shared in a series of 2 articles) to celebrate Ace’s decade of ranking “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Home Improvement Retail Stores,” according to J.D. Power.*

Try these award-winning tips from successful entrepreneurs and executives at Ace who speak from success about how to develop a culture that amazes every customer every time:

1) Have a small business mindset. Big business routinely leads to bureaucracy which shackles people. Small business is informal, and informality unleashes inventiveness.
John Venhuizen, President and CEO, Ace Hardware Corporation
2) Trust your team to learn from their mistakes. To earn customers trust, establish a trusting relationship with your employees and colleagues.
Tom Knox, President and CEP, Westlake Ace Hardware
3) Be part of something bigger than yourself. Find a cause that’s important to support and inspire your team and your customers to become part of it.
Lou Manfredini, Ace’s Home Expert and Store Owner
4) Adapt and differentiate. If we stuck with the conventional wisdom, we’d have missed opening what is now our fastest growing store in the chain. To be where our customers are, we’ve had to embrace unconventional locations, spaces and offerings.
Gina Schaefer, Owner, A Few Cool Hardware Stores
5) To be the best place to do business with, you have to be the best place to work for. If you want employees to care, recognize good behavior, share your vision, make sure your team knows how important they are.

Art Freedman, Ace Retailer and Author

*Ace Hardware received the highest numerical score among retail stores in the proprietary J.D. Power 2016 Home Improvement Retail Store StudySM. Study based on responses from 2,995 consumers measuring six stores and opinions of consumers who purchased a home improvement product or service within the previous 12 months. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of consumers surveyed January-February 2016. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.

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