Service Obsession

Shelves full of shiny new products won’t matter if you fail to focus on service


by Tina Manzer

After struggling through years of turmoil and uncertainty, the last thing most specialty toy retailers would do is take customers for granted. Yet if your store is like many, you may find your fervent efforts to attract and retain customers falling curiously flat. It’s not that they’re storming angrily out the door. It’s that their experience with your company is less of an enthusiastic “Wow!” and more of a tepid “Meh.” What are you doing wrong?

“Companies have great intentions,” says Joseph Michelli, best-selling author of Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way. “They want to delight customers; they really do. Problem is, their great intentions are at odds with their culture. When that’s the case, they’re doomed to make certain, predictable mistakes. What’s worse, they don’t even know they’re making them.”

Michelli knows just how hard it is for most organizations to keep customers happy for the long haul. Here, he shares five big mistakes your organization may be making without realizing it.

You chase new customers at the expense of existing ones. 

In other words, you’re directing too much money toward acquisition and hardly any toward retention. The ratio is lopsided. Here’s a recent example from our industry: a retailer on an ASTRA Discussion Board, who has been a good customer of a vendor for 15 years, was not eligible for his Toy Fair special. It was reserved for new customers only. The practice, which is not uncommon, bothered her enough to post about it.

“I’ve noticed companies that are good acquirers of customers often are not good retainers of customers,” says Michelli. “The key to business, I think, is being great at both, and at using those you’ve retained to help with your acquisition curve. I see a lot of brands missing the message here. The cost of acquisition is so much higher than the cost of retention, so why not invest more in the cost – in the tools of retention – to maximize that multiplier?”

You make your customers work too hard. 

Businesses must now compete in an increasingly Uber-ized society. Uber customers simply pull out their phone, push the app, a car pulls up and takes them where they need to go. They are dropped off, no cash is exchanged, and they are done.  Specialty toy stores have been Uber-izing birthday gift selection for years – a mom calls ahead for a wrapped gift and picks it up on the way to the party.

Today, that’s simply not enough. Businesses are being forced to find new ways to make their customer’s entire experience effortless and frictionless, yet as personal as possible.

“There are companies today that will actually gas up your car for you at the touch of a button, and they wash your windows and leave a little note on the windshield,” says Michelli. “You can just leave work and go straight home to your kids because you’re already gassed up.

“Customers leave because we don’t think through the degree of effort it requires to do business with us. From that starting point, pick apart your deliverable and figure out how to maximize its ease. Do you provide technology solutions? Simplify every touchpoint? When it’s not almost effortless, customers leave.”

You hire the wrong people out of desperation. 

When we hire from a place of being frantic and rushed, we end up with low performers. We hire too quickly because we want to fill a shift. That often results in employees who handle customer interaction, but lack the emotional intelligence to connect authentically with another human being.

“Frequently we get pressure from existing employees who say, ‘Please, send us a body,’ and then, seemingly hours later, they beg, ‘Please get rid of this body,’” notes Michelli. “Somebody can be standing on the sales floor or answering the phone, but if they’re a drag on the service you provide, it’s worse than having nobody there at all. We need to hire a little more slowly, and be a little more cautious than we have been in the past.”

You’re not training for authenticity. 

Companies have to strive, first of all, to hire people who truly do care about customers, but that’s just the beginning. They should also be training employees to connect on a human level. This is not about scripting but about helping employees realize what customers really want and need, and then empowering them to provide it.

“Capabilities like emotional intelligence have to be awakened and reinforced through the employee training process,” he says. “You need to immerse them in your brand so they really understand what it’s like to be the customer – to ‘get’ unspoken needs. You need to collect and share stories of customer delight. You need to touch the hearts of team members as well as their minds. When you do, they’ll genuinely want to serve the customer.”

You end transactions at the money exchange.

Too many businesses close the deal and politely say goodbye. The message customers get is, “Okay, we sold you your toy, you gave us the money, now we’re done.” There is an enormous space here for employees to invite reengagement with the customer at the end of a transaction to really show appreciation, to show gratitude, to show an eagerness to serve them again.

“Godiva does a great job of reengaging the customer,” says Michelli. “Their employees will put the chocolate in a lovely bag, then actually walk around the counter and hand it to the customer. Often they’ll say, ‘Hey, we’ve got another product coming out that you may enjoy,’ or  ‘We’re looking forward to hearing how this was received when you come back in.’

“They’re creating an invitation to return, and that’s incredibly powerful. It’s what happens when brands really get it. When other brands follow a robotic script like, ‘Thanks, have a nice day,’ there’s no reason for shoppers to ever come back again; today’s need is fulfilled and the relationship is over.”

Michelli concludes: “When customers have the luxury of abundant choices, businesses must constantly look in the mirror to see where they can improve. If your culture isn’t built on a sincere desire to delight the customer – no, not a desire, an obsession – those mistakes are likely to be unforgiveable ones. The real tragedy is you’ll never even know you’re making them.”

A speaker and New York Times bestselling author, Joseph Michelli, PhD, CSP, is a globally recognized thought leader in customer experience design. For more information, visit

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