We've heard from the experts: the successful window coverings and interior fashions retailers and designers from around the country featured each month in our cover stories. Time and time again they've said it's customer service that sets them apart. From their example, we can get a pretty good idea of what customer service means.
Rebecca Shearn, Decorating Den, West Chester, OH, told us it may be as simple as following the Golden Rule. "Truly listen to clients and find out what they want. And treat them as you would want to be treated," she said. Following her advice gets you to the next step: Knowing your customers. Do they have limited time to shop around and are looking for a one-stop-shop? Is their primary concern fashion, function or comfort? Are they looking for brand names, or bargains? William O'Connor, Outlook Window Fashions, Mundelein, IL, takes knowing the customer seriously. He said market research and customer analysis is key to the company's expansion plans. He checks an area's economic information, home furnishings purchases and labor statistics before opening every new outlet.
Once customer expectations and needs are determined, the next step is to fulfill them. It sounds simple enough, but it takes training, experience and patience. Carol Vasko, Silver Thread, Ltd., Manassas Park, VA, has become so good at it her customers never worry that the work will get done well, on time and to their complete satisfaction. Many of her customers trust her so much, they give her keys to their homes so she can work on a decorating project even while they are away. She has been called The Turn-key Decorator.
An important part of customer service, however, is attitude. When asked, nearly every successful retailer we've profiled described her- or himself as a people-person, and they look for employees with the same trait. Above all, they enjoy doing what they do. Michael Williamson, Horizon Design, Greenwich, CT, once told us he loved Mondays because it meant five days in which to get more things done.
This month, Parviz Sadrian is another retailer who simply loves what he does, and that attitude carries over to how he treats customers: as if each one were his most important client. As with so many others, Sadrian puts in a lot of hard work and long days, but he tells us the rewards for exemplary customer service make it worthwhile.
If the key to success is in gaining a competitive advantage, then it seems what it takes to be successful can best be found within each of us.