Now more than ever, the seasonal economy that makes up the majority of our shoreline and is now creeping into our bay front towns is highly dependent on visitors and visitor spending. That is not news to anyone that lives in our region, especially those that own a business. What is worth discussing is the betterment of the interaction between the visitor, who is our customer, and those owning, operating and working for our area businesses.
Customer service has always been important to seasonal commerce success. In today’s challenging times it has become critical and crucial. Visitors and customers have been choosing to visit the shore since the shore was settled and developed, and they get to decide exactly where they spend their hard-earned dollars. Prior to this season, it was easy to sometimes feel as an owner or worker that the long lines and crowded tables during peak weekends along with busy summer days and nights would always be here. This year may be different, with the numbers of people visiting and the capacity to serve their needs based on changes in service area, dining restrictions and limits on numbers of patrons allowed inside businesses. One of the keys to making sure they can and hopefully will visit your establishment as often as possible is the customer service you and your staff provide.
Two neighboring stores, eateries or attractions could be offering similar products or services in Any Shore Town, yet one of the businesses is doing an amazing amount of business while the other, less popular business and its workers sit and watch the waves roll in and the people walk by. Why is that happening? I truly believe a big portion of that answer comes down to two words — customer service.
For those who disagree with my thought process and offer up the notion that historically strong well known entities that have been staples on the boardwalks and beach fronts are and have always been popular, I do not disagree. But how do you suppose those businesses were built and have maintained a strong customer base that grows successfully year after year? If you go back to their early days a big part of their success was commitment to the customer experience and high quality customer service.
Serving the customer coupled with solid strategy and development grows businesses. The opportunity to grow customer base for a business that that doesn't operate year-round is packed into a season. Whether your season is three or six months, you only have that amount of time to make and maintain positive customer and visitor experiences.
In addition to making sure you have clear signage and easy to understand instructions for any changes in your service or policies based on the appropriate COVID-19-related guidance, please remember to encourage and employ some customer service basics. While each business approaches customer service training and their guidelines differently, here are a few go-to customer service tips to help you to make your customer’s interaction with you and your business more memorable.
• Show appreciation: From the greeting to the "goodbye, and see you next time," work in a few thank you-type comments so the customer not only feels buts hears how appreciative you are that they choose to visit you. You have heard this before, a friendly greeting and a smile (even through a mask) is a wonderful way to show thanks and appreciation.
• A well-served customer is happy: While we cannot control the mood of every client or customer who walks in our door, we can create a friendly and positive workspace. Smiling is contagious and the right mix of happy and upbeat interactions has a way of turning a less than happy customer’s frown around.
• “The customer isn’t always right, but ... ”: In customer service someone thought up the slogan “The customer is always right.” That may be true in some cases but not all. What is much more appropriate today is “The customer isn’t always right, but they always have the right to be heard.” The skill of listening, understanding and attempting to solve a customer’s issue or problem needs to be added to everyone’s customer service offering.
• Treat every customer as an individual guest: This can be difficult when facing long lines and even longer days and nights of service. Workers get tired and busy. Sometimes the “freshness” of the interaction with the customer starts to reach an expiration date somewhere around the sixth hour of work or in the middle of working a double shift. A possible solution is to mix up your greeting or have fun with “testing out” new greetings or appropriate phrases that make you feel a little more refreshed during your customer exchanges.
• Remove negative stereotypes from your vocabulary: Today more than ever, using blanket terms to describe our guests and visitors is unacceptable. The term I am referring to may have some historical accuracy but in my entire lifetime spending time in our shore towns, I have never seen anyone pull their lunch out of a shoebox. It is time to change the perception and remove that term and those like it from our conversations.
Whether you have been growing your customer base for years or are just getting started, doing a better job with this season’s more unique seasonal customer service strategies can equal long-term gains. Enjoy your summer as best you can and let’s make sure our customers do the same.