Q What is the secret to good customer service?
AWhat a great question. For me, it is all about people. It is about people who make a real effort to genuinely assist others.
If you employ people with the right attitude, people who can smile, and people with outgoing personalities, then the chances are you will be able to deliver world-class customer service. You can always train people on the specific skills required to do the job but you can't train people on attitude and passion.
The other key to great service is to show, as owner of the business, that it matters to you. I spent many hours each week chatting with customers, packing bags and generally making customers feel welcome in our shops. What managers and staff saw was that this was a priority for me and understood its importance.
The last element is the measurement of service you offer. I used to measure service levels through 'customer panels', where I would sit with a group of customers in a shop over a cup of coffee and discuss their experiences. This ensured that I was able to keep a finger on the pulse of service levels, etc. Today, many businesses employ 'mystery shoppers' or 'mystery diners' to monitor service levels. It's a case of the old proverb: "What gets measured, gets managed".
QI am meeting my bank in connection with securing a loan. Is there any advice you can give me to increase my chances of being successful?
AIn the past, your local bank manager knew you well and had the discretion to make decisions at local branch level, which were typically based on their knowledge of you, your business and awareness of the local landscape.
That doesn't seem to be the case anymore. From what many businesses tell me; these decisions are made anonymously by someone "at head office". This means your application and paperwork has to be robust as the person adjudicating on your loan has nothing to base the decision on other than the facts that you present to them.
It will be vital that you submit a very strong business plan. The acid test is that anyone should be able to pick it up, read it and get a clear understanding of the opportunity within it.
The need for funding should be clearly linked to the business plan outcome so the person approving it can create a clear link between the loan and increase in revenue which will, in part, go to help servicing the loan initially.
You mentioned you were meeting someone from the bank. Spend some time preparing. It is always helpful if you can create some visuals to support your case, or take some product samples if a product is involved. Also bear in mind, the person approving your loan may know very little about your sector, so it is very important that you take care not to use too much jargon and make the proposition as simple to follow as possible.
Finally, remember that first impressions also help. Appearance, body language and demonstrating your own level of passion for the project are all factors, but do remember that the person who makes the ultimate decision on this may never get to meet you and everything may rest on the paperwork. Good luck with the loan and don't forget there are several other new sources of finance if you are declined, e.g. www.microfinanceireland.ie
QI found a new retail outlet which will become available in a month's time and I am rushing to get it open as quickly as possible. I won't have my full range of products when I open, but should have this in place within four to five weeks. Are there any tips you can give me with regard to making it a success?
ADon't open until you are ready, is the best advice that I can give you! You will probably have heard the phrase: 'Retail is detail'. And it is this detail that separates the good from the bad in terms of standards.
Opening without the full range available will simply give the wrong message to your customers.
You are opening this shop to make a difference and to attract customers because of the unique consumer proposition you will have. You will only get one opportunity with most customers to make a lasting impression.
Opening standards was one of the things in Superquinn about which I was fanatical.
The team would put huge effort into having everything just right on day one and this was the standard the store would maintain thereafter.
What you have to remember, is that those customers who arrive within the first few weeks can be crucial ambassadors for your shop, and immediately start telling others about the exciting new retail operation they have discovered.
You must be obsessed with standards – and you must be obsessed with these from day one.