The right customer service philosophy can not only help you and your employees provide better service, it can help you find meaning in your work, said Liz Lark-Riley, managing director of Rockledge Gardens, at her Cultivate’22 session, “The Secret to Keeping Promises: Customer Service 101 for Garden Retailers.”
After spending time working in theater, restaurants and retail at her Florida IGC, Lark-Riley has developed her own approach to serving customers, no matter what type — the Whole-hearted Customer Service Philosophy. It not only makes customers happier, it helps her find meaning and purpose in her work, she said.
It all boils down to one thing: “Customer service is really about making and keeping promises,” she said. Here are the six main tenets:
- The customer is always human. Your customer is going to make mistakes; they’re going to come in the middle of a bad day; they’re going to fail to read policies and they’re going to kill plants. Don’t develop an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality with your customers. Remember they’re just human. Rockledge calls customer guests and that has a big impact on their psyches. Customers love it and it removes the barrier between your employees and customers.
- We are healers and solvers. "I truly believe that gardens have the power to heal and it’s amazing that we have the ability to be a part of that," she said. "By serving customers, we have a bigger impact than we might think."
- Make it personal. Lark-Riley's father always said, "Retail is theater." In both retail and theater, you have a script but you’re making it uniquely yours and each performance is different, she said. Don’t be afraid to steal lines from coworkers that you love. For example, Lark-Riley stole the phrase, “Now if those start misbehaving on you, you let us know.” It puts no pressure or fault on them and puts the IGC as the resources, she said.
- But don’t take it personally. It’s never about you. Take a deep breath and ask yourself if there’s anything to be learned, and move on.
- Share your values and know your worth. “You and your team can’t keep promises to your customers if you don’t’ know what those promises are,” Lark-Riley said. So you need to have a well-defined purpose and share it with your team regularly. For example, Rockledge Gardens recognizes an employee of the month to award the employee who is best embodying its purpose. Each time someone is awarded the honor, the nominator reads the company purpose.
- Stop and smell the roses. The seasonal nature of a garden center business can be exhausting so make sure to take breaks and find out what recharges you mentally. "The secret to keeping promises you make to your customers is keeping the promises you keep to yourself," Lark-Riley said.
Get your staff on board.
Employee education is the key to better customer service, and it's a win-win-win situation, Lark-Riley said. Employees win because they get more confidence, and customers win because employees are more knowledgeable. Plus, the company wins because engaged, educated employees are likely to stick with you longer and take better care of your customers.
Employees need to know your policies, promotions and systems. “And make it easy for them to know those things,” Lark-Riley said. “Don’t make your team feel at sea.”
Rockledge does this by gathering for a morning huddle for 5 minutes before the store opens to talk about trucks that are coming in that day, promotions or anything else they need to know. A manager or sales leader also checks in with each employee one on one every week to see how they’re doing, what they’re enjoying or what roadblocks they’re having.
The garden center also has a monthly all-hands staff meeting, which is a prime opportunity for retraining, communicating new systems and staff education.
Customer service tips from the Rockledge Gardens staff
Lark-Riley shared some of the Rockledge employees' best tips for making customers feel welcome, informed and excited about gardening.
- Have patience. This may not be your first rodeo, but it could be a new adventure for your customer.
- Ask open-ended questions rather than yes-or-no questions to better understand what their needs are.
- Let them know they are not alone and they are not stupid. Telling them that others have had the same struggles, problems or questions will show them that they are not failures.
- Share your resources. Make sure your customers know all of the educational materials you have available to them. (And make sure that your garden center has those resources.)
- Experiment at home. The more your staff experiment at home, the more confident they will feel about talking to guests about their gardens.