Eight years ago, the Roane County Chamber of Commerce asked me to design a workshop that would help members improve their level of customer satisfaction.

I did over 100 hours of research to design the “How to Delight Your Customers” workshop.

When I interviewed a successful small business owner in Knoxville, he told me that he and his staff focused on three areas: product/service, customer service and ambiance. It can be an effective tool for building customer satisfaction.

I decided to name it the Customer Satisfaction Triad and incorporate it in the workshop. Here is an overview:
Product/service is what you are selling. In a previous column, I discussed the concept of what the customer is really buying.

In the restaurant business, it could be a quick meal, an environment for a business meeting, a romantic time together, etc.

What is it in your business? Think it through with your key employees. For example, you may be selling a product, and the customer also wants service after the sale.

Customer service is how the customer is serviced before, during and after the sale.

What are the opportunities to show customers that you really care about them? How long do they have to wait?

Do you provide advice and guidance to customers to help them select the product or service which most effectively meets their needs?

Remember, to the customer, perception is reality. As management guru Tom Peters said, “Customers perceive service in their own unique, idiosyncratic, emotional, irrational, end-of-the-day, and totally human terms. Perception is all there is!”

Do you do follow-up interviews or surveys with a sample number of customers? Two major banks have hired Gallup to do internet surveys that are employee specific. The results are shared with the branch manager and all employees who interface with customers.

Nordstrom department store is recognized as a leader in customer service. The company’s sales clerks work on commission, and some them earn more than $100,000 a year.

If you want to learn more about how they do it, read “The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence” by Robert Spector and Patrick McCarthy.

Ambiance is the special or distinctive atmosphere surrounding a person, place or thing.

What is the average customer’s perception of your business? Your competitors? How clean are the work areas, restrooms and parking lot? Warmth of public areas? Attractiveness of displays? Does your website look professional? Does it effectively provide information to meet the customers’ needs? Is it up to date? Smart phone compatible?

Carefully look at your business through the eyes of the customer.

When I ask “How to Delight Your Customers” workshop participants for ambiance examples, they offer mostly negative ones.

The list includes trash in the parking lot, sticky salt-and-pepper shakers and ketchup bottles, waitresses who serve beverages by holding the glass by the rim, dirty door knobs, employees who dress to please themselves instead of the customer, employees on break eating within view of customers, cluttered check-out areas, and the list goes on.

Look for subtle, implied messages. One retired person who owned a successful retail business in a nearby county told me that she knows that many retailers in Roane County indicate that they don’t want her business before she even gets to the front door.

She explained that signs like “No shirt, no shoes, no service” create a negative feeling.

After hearing that, my awareness increased. A small credit union opened a branch in a shopping center that I often visit. I noticed that their windows were heavily tinted, and you could not see in or read window signage, even if you were parked close.

The only thing visible was a white sticker with a red “no entry” symbol on the outside of the window. It could be seen from 100 feet away.

I never went in.

Another credit union now occupies the space.

After you have analyzed the ambiance of your business, do the same with your competitors and businesses that serve similar customers. For example, doctors visiting dentists and optometrists. Learn from both good and bad examples.

Once you have identified the changes you want to make in the three areas, get input from key employees. Get their buy-in.

Once you implement the changes, be a good role model!

One restaurant manager, who had a very popular Sunday brunch in Knoxville, told me that he would arrive before the other employees and pick up trash in the shared parking lot. He did not want families to walk through trash after attending church.

Employees would see him doing this when they arrived at work.

Think about how this impacted their behavior and the level of customer satisfaction.

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Dana Peterka is a Roane County SCORE counselor and chairman-elect of the Roane County Chamber of Commerce. Email him questions about small business-related issues at Business owners can reach him through the Chamber of Commerce at 376-2093.

What’s the SCORE?: Create your own Customer Satisfaction Triad