An ancient Chinese saying tells us that “To open a business is very easy; to keep it open is very difficult.” In today’s business climate, customers have many options for where and how to buy what they want and need. If a brick-and-mortar company doesn’t make it easy to buy and receive what someone is looking for, those individuals, without leaving their desks or their easy chairs, can get pretty much anything they want by the touch of a keyboard.

While online order deliveries are getting faster, buying online doesn’t guarantee that the products will be as good as what the products look like on a monitor. Depending on the vendor, the return policies and/or customer service may not be the greatest either, so there can be downsides to buying certain products this way. In fact, sometimes the person you’re dealing with when trying to return or exchange a product, either on the phone or via email, knows absolutely nothing about the product itself. Sometimes he or she doesn’t even speak the language well enough to be understood.

Like many of you, I am extremely loyal to certain businesses all over the country. There’s a reason for this. These businesses make us feel good when we leave our hard-earned money with them. They make it easy to interface with them, and they make it convenient to do business with them. Buying from these companies is hassle free.

When I was growing up in the Chicago area, Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s), with its landmark big clock on the corner of State and Washington Streets, was THE place to shop. Every shopper could count on their mission and their motto, “Give the customer what he/she wants.” Their sales people were so dedicated to their employer’s motto that if they didn’t have a product that you needed, they’d order it, and if they couldn’t get it quickly, they’d find out which store had that product and then send us there. Back then, Macy’s and Gimbels became known for that, as well, and then, many other department stores throughout the country began to follow their example.

“Service with a smile” used to be a good motto. Today, smiling front-line greeters, whether in person, on the phone, through email, etc., should be knowledgeable about all the products and services a company represents. Business experts say that the time, effort, and monetary investment in a good training program should include:

  • Product knowledge. The more team members know, the more customers will feel like they’re in good hands.
  • Company knowledge. All employees should know how a company got its start.
  • How to listen so they can hear, understand, and respond to a customer’s needs.
  • Making every team member responsible for everything. There should be no “It’s not my job” attitude.
  • How to provide the “right” solution. Teach team members to provide service-friendly solutions to a customer’s problem, and empower them to act on their solution, within a certain set of limits. This gives team members a sense of “ownership” and allows them to go the extra mile to satisfy a customer.

The recent closings of several once-powerful brick-and-mortar retailers brings home the reality that everyday there are more and more options for shoppers to buy what they need. Good customer service can help to keep shoppers coming back.

Business coaches say that to succeed in business in this digital world, whether in a brick-and-mortar store or online, we have to deliver what’s promised! And these days, if a business can’t deliver what’s promised, it's history.