Official gives advice for good customer service

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Business owners and employers bear the responsibility for providing the best possible service to their customers, said Jeff Waller, director of the Copiah-Lincoln Small Business Development Center.

With his offices at the Co-Lin Natchez campus, Waller, director since April 2005, sees and counsels business owners and would-be entrepreneurs in a 12-county district in Southwest Mississippi.

His advice always has been: &8220;What the business owner has to do is anticipate that every one of his employees will come in contact with the customers,&8221; he said. &8220;Train them to treat the customer the way you, the business owner, would like to be treated.&8221;

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Employee training is crucial to a successful business, he said. That may be more true today than ever before. &8220;What I find more and more is that customers are in a higher demand mode,&8221; Waller said. &8220;There often is an immediate gratification to be satisfied. Teach employees the best way to fulfill that gratification.&8221;

Simple rules of speech, manners, dress, appearance and work ethics can make the difference in training employees.

&8220;As an example, I was in a restaurant the other day, and the waitress who was waiting on my table also had a group three tables away,&8221; Waller said. &8220;She shouted across those three tables to me to ask &8216;is everything OK, do you need anything.&8217;&8221;

Only a few seconds of her time to walk to his table would have left a better impression on him, he said. &8220;It&8217;s sometimes small things that turn people off.&8221;

Teaching employees to have good work ethics includes instruction on punctuality. If an employee&8217;s shift begins at 6 a.m., he should arrive before that hour and be prepared to begin work right at 6 a.m., Waller said.

&8220;And you don&8217;t carry on conversations with other employees while the customer waits,&8221; he said.

Appearance and clothing are important, also, Waller said. The employee should not look out of place among the kinds of customers a business wants to attract &8212; no eyebrow rings and nose studs unless that also is the norm for customers.

Teaching the right phrases to use with customers should include such first approaches as, &8220;How may I help you&8221; or &8220;May I help you find something,&8221; he said. &8220;Make sure your employees know what you want them to say.&8221;

First impression is important. &8220;You want it to be pleasing to the customer,&8221; he said, going on to describe a hardware store in another town that was too dark for him to find the items he came to buy.

&8220;New people bought the store, painted the walls white and installed new lighting, and now it&8217;s wonderful,&8221; Waller said.

&8220;Even the oldest building in the world can be clean and be kept in good shape,&8221; he said.

Customer service begins when a person drives into a parking lot and stops. &8220;It&8217;s not just the inside but the outside, too,&8221; he said. &8220;A dirty facility will run me away quicker than anything.&8221;

Waller, who formerly was director of the business center at Southwest Community College in Summit, has seen about 180 clients since Oct. 1 and in addition has held workshops to help small business owners and those starting up businesses.

The Co-Lin center is located in the academic building at the community college, 11 Co-Lin Circle. The phone number is 601-445-5254.