Area businesses share service wisdom

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; A few business owners and representatives in Natchez shared their thoughts on customer service and how it is important to their business and the Miss-Lou.

Owners and representatives gave their opinion on how customer service affects their business, how they teach their employees practices of good customer service and how well they perform as a business.

A few business owners even discussed how technology helps their business with customer service.

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Darby Short and her husband Dennis of Darby&8217;s and D Short&8217;s have been contributing good customer service to their business for 24 years.

&8220;Good customer service is our No. 1

focus,&8221; said Short. &8220;It is everything in our business.&8221;

Short said that one of her most important attributes to good customer service is her ability to accommodate her customers.

Short and her husband deal with a lot of out-of-town customers who can only pick up their items on weekends.

&8220;For instance we had one couple that could only make it by 6:30 p.m. to pick up a piece,&8221; Short said.

&8220;Even though Dennis and I were going out that evening, we still came by and helped them load it. Though the store closes at 6 p.m.&8221;

Phillip Watts, sales manager at Belk, said that survival and success of Belk relies greatly on customer service and satisfaction.

&8220;If the customers don&8217;t like our service, then they&8217;ll find somewhere else to shop,&8221; Watts said. &8220;In a town this small, what that means for us is that people will go out of town to shop and we don&8217;t want that.&8221;

It is said that success in the restaurant depends on a good food, good location and good service.

John Holyoak, manager of Dunlieth Plantation&8217;s The Castle, thinks that location falls third in that list.

&8220;Location is important but if you have good food and the staff treats you with respect, then people will come find you,&8221; Holyoak said.

All business owners and representatives agree that the key to great customer service is having employees that know how to treat the customer.

Each business has different ways to teach these skills.

Hal Garner of Hal Garner&8217;s Antiques gives his first-time employees one tip while working for him.

&8220;I tell my employees, in regards to the customer, when you approach someone looking to shop, try and treat them as a guest in your home,&8221; Garner said. &8220;If the customer is worn out from shopping, what I call antiqued out, I tell my employees to offer them a cup of coffee or cool glass of lemonade and to have seat and rest.&8221;

Audley Case of Home Hardware puts himself in the customer&8217;s shoes when trying to pitch a sale.

&8220;I try and remember that I&8217;m not only a salesman but a consumer too,&8221; Case said. &8220;If someone comes in looking for a washing machine I don&8217;t just pitch the $2,000 machine to them. I try and sell them a machine that fits their needs the most.&8221;

In training a bartender for the pub at The Castle, Holyoak said that he sometimes prefers teaching someone with little experience.

&8220;I&8217;d rather train someone with a fresh attitude and wants to learn than to train someone who knows it all and is surly,&8221; Holyoak said.

The Belk Company has ways to monitor how employees are treating customers.

&8220;We have what is called a secret shopper program,&8221; Watts said. &8220;Representatives from the head quarters and act as shoppers to measure the time of response from a employee to a customer.&8221;

Technology plays a role in customer service in some businesses in Natchez.

Short spends $1,500 a year on software to help customers.

&8220;In the old days when someone wanted a certain fabric on say a couch, they would have to imagine a small fabric examples on their couch,&8221; Short said. &8220;Now we have a system that can show you what that couch would look like with the design you picked out.&8221;

Short said the software also simulates room arrangements with the furniture she sells.

Still, with technology available, some businesses prefer a hands-on approach to dealing with customer satisfaction.

&8220;Putting your hands on the merchandise, knowing it and telling someone how it works gives a customer much more security and trust in you as a salesman,&8221; Case said.

When rating themselves, a few stores are very confident in their customer satisfaction.

&8220;I would have to give Home Hardware an A plus,&8221; Case said. &8220;When I observe customers that first walk in the door, I can see that they are promptly waited on or at least told &8216;hello&8217; by an employee.&8221;

Garner measures his customer service rating by past-customer response.

&8220;We get worlds of good response through letters and telephone calls from our shoppers, especially our out-of-town guests,&8221; Garner said. &8220;And I can&8217;t tell you how many times someone comes to our door because a past shopper recommended us.&8221;

Watts said he would like to give Belk an A plus but that there is always need for improvement.

&8220;Sometimes we get so caught up in what we&8217;re doing that it&8217;s like we have blinders on,&8221; Watts said. &8220;But we&8217;re working in on it everyday and learning to multi-task better.&8221;