Shoppers Inc. hones customer service
BY LAURIE WINSLOW World Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
10/30/12 at 11:01 AM
Learn more about Shoppers Inc. and other small businesses
BROKEN ARROW - Kathy Shook feels strongly about customer service quality and helping companies improve.
In 1986, she started Shoppers Inc. at home in an effort to gain flexibility so she could raise her son. Before founding the company, Shook held jobs as a training assistant at a travel company, worked in training and later in marketing at a local bank.
As Shook knows, happy customers are good for business and can improve the bottom line.
Today, her operation provides services to help companies pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in their overall service to customers. Shoppers Inc. provides training programs, and consistent measurement and encouragement of customer service skills.
Some services include mystery shopper visits and phone calls, customer satisfaction surveys, compliance audits and surveys of competitor shops.
Mystery shoppers, for instance, are "secret customers" who go into a business and do what customers do, and then complete a detailed report on what occurred during that visit or phone call. They need to be observant, have a good memory, take good notes and write reports well, Shook said. It's something she personally had experience with prior to starting the company.
A good mystery shopper also has to be a bit of an actor, she said, playing out specific scenarios and acting as if they really want to buy the product or service.
Most of her staff are moms who have flexible hours that allow them to work during school time and then be home for their families.
About one-third of the company's clients are in Oklahoma and Texas, with the rest spread throughout the United States.
How important is customer service to the success of a business or organization?
Service quality determines whether a company succeeds or fails. Customers are the No. 1 asset, and employees are the No. 2 asset to any company. If employees aren't treating customers the way the owner would, those customers have plenty of choices to do business elsewhere. And word of mouth travels fast, especially with social media today. It's amazing how little emphasis many companies put on service quality, even in today's tight market. An American Express survey from May 2011 found that 56 percent of Americans are willing to pay more for a better customer experience.
Are there any trends that are shaping customer service?
Two do come to mind: Customer service is the new marketing. Business owners used to worry that an unhappy customer would tell nine people. Now we need to know that they can tell 9 million people. Social media is the trend everywhere but it really affects a company's reputation and ultimately the bottom line.
The other one is self-service: ATMs, online orders, online statements, even self-checkout at the grocery store. But if a customer has any trouble or needs help, the company better be there quick with a well-trained, positive employee who is ready to assist. Nothing can go downhill faster than a sale with no help to complete it.
How picky or demanding would you say customers are today compared to 10 to 20 years ago?
Oh, we are much more demanding! I'd say three to four times more demanding. We're all in a hurry and you can see the frustration down the line when the wait grows to check out. Consumers are smarter, too. With the Internet, they can find out who has good prices and good service, who cares about customers, etc., and we all know that businesses need us to survive. I think today, customers are much more aware of their importance to business.
What are some basic, simple ways that businesses can immediately improve customer service?
1. Feedback! You have to know what your customers think. Do whatever you can to get feedback from customers. If you don't have the time or staff to do this yourself, outsource it. You can't possibly know what your customer's experience is until you ask them.
2. Don't assume! Don't assume everyone who works for you will treat customers the way you do. While many people do know how to provide great service, it is consistently becoming less common. Let them know your expectations and provide the tools they need to serve customers effectively.
3. Monitor! Don't just check service quality once and think you're OK forever. Consistent measurement and testing helps you maintain that standard of excellence.
What are some of the most common or egregious customer service mistakes that businesses make?
They assume employees know how to treat customers right. It’s just the basics: greet customers, be available and positive if they need help and thank them for their business. It seems simple, but how many times have you wandered around a store looking for help? Or been helped by someone who obviously didn’t care whether you made the purchase or not?
Do you have any personal stories related to customer service — something you experienced that made an indelible impression on you, be it good or bad?
Oh yes, lots of stories! The most recent one that comes to mind is a visit to a local retailer. I found a pair of leather gloves I wanted, but it was the last pair and had no price. I took the gloves to the cashier, who called for someone to go check the price. I waited 20 minutes, and no one ever got a price for me or even acknowledged my wait. The original cashier never offered to check on the other person or even page them. I asked her, but she never got anyone to find out what was going on. I’m sure most people wouldn’t wait that long. I just really wanted the gloves, but I had to leave without them.
I also have consistently exceptional service from a local restaurant. We often sit at the bar so we don’t have the wait. The bartenders are friendly and know our faces...even if they don’t really know us, they act like it. They provide fast service, lots of great conversation and the food is tasty. Many times, we choose to go here rather than somewhere else, just because we know it’s always a consistently great experience in every way.
How responsible should customers be for ensuring that they have a positive experience versus the retailer or restaurant or business serving them?
A good business is responsible for doing everything in its power to provide an excellent customer experience every time with every customer. However, sometimes things happen that are beyond anyone’s control. The business should learn from those times and adjust as needed. But when that happens, a customer’s responsibility is to be somewhat understanding of those who serve him/her. Obviously, if the lines in the store are 10 customers deep and there is just one cashier, it’s not that cashier’s fault...that’s a management issue. So we shouldn’t take it out on the staff at hand, but we should take the opportunity to report our concerns when the company is interested in feedback.
What are your future plans for your business?
We plan to continue to grow our business outside the usual realm of banking, restaurant and retail. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in — customer service is the key to success. We also plan to expand our schedule of employee workshops and training programs to help companies provide the training their staff may need.
Owner: Kathy Shook
Date established: December 1986
Address: 102 N. Elm Place, Suite B-1, Broken Arrow
Workforce size: Nine employees in Broken Arrow office and more than 1,500 contractors nationwide
Business description: Shoppers Inc. helps clients improve their customer experience through various services, including customer service measurement, training and implementation.
Small, but significant
Despite having a number of large employers, Tulsa actually is a small-business town. About 94 percent of all employment in the metro area is at businesses that have 100 or fewer employees, according to the Tulsa Metro Chamber. And, many of those firms are very small. Approximately 80 percent of total employment is at businesses with 10 or fewer employees.
Original Print Headline: The customer is boss
Laurie Winslow 918-581-8466
Kathy Shook is owner of Shoppers Inc., a company based in Broken Arrow. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World