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The Satisfied Customer

by Christina Paciolla
While it may not be possible to please everyone, listening and staying in tune with their needs can go a long way.

“The customer is always right.” It’s a phrase coined in the early 1900s by the owner of the famous British department store Selfridges; a simple adage, but effective enough that 100 years later, businesses follow it above all else when it comes to customer retention. And recent reports clearly show why that’s a good move.

According to a study by Harris Interactive, 86 percent of consumers have quit doing business with a company due to poor customer service, while 60 percent say they would pay more for exceptional service.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable: the customer who hangs up in the middle of a service call, or the shopper who stomps out of a store. But local business owners say in most cases, crisis can be averted.

Jim Auletto, owner of Auletto Caterers, says the Deptford Township business holds about 400 affairs each year. Weddings are their primary business, so pleasing the bride and groom goes way beyond making sure the couple is happy on their wedding day.

“We invite them to come back as often as possible to get acclimated with the facility and with us,” Auletto says. “That makes them feel more comfortable the day of the wedding.”

Auletto says client conflict is a rarity and the way they make sure of that is efficiency. “We go over things again and again,” says Auletto. “The last thing they want is a surprise.” Everyone from the valet parking attendants to the wait staff is prepped for the event.

“You have to follow all the way through,” Auletto says. “It has to be seamless. You have to make everyone understand that service is the key to everything.”

Further reports from the Peppers & Rogers Group show 81 percent of companies with strong customer service outperform the competition.

In the food and grocery industry, Wegmans has a program called Wegmans Consistent Low Prices.

“We’ve been holding the line on prices for a long period of time,” says Mount Laurel store manager Todd Allen. “Food prices were really starting to rise and the market wasn’t really sure what was going to happen.”

Wegmans is up to 60 items on their list this summer with prices that have not increased. The items are geared toward feeding families and maintaining a budget in these economic times. Allen says Wegmans does this to show how much they care about keeping customers.

All of their employees—more than 500 of them in Mount Laurel alone—are educated in customer service and encouraged to have personal conversations with shoppers to better meet their needs.

“We can tell them what apple is in season, find them tuna packaged in oil or water, and more,” Allen says. “Our employees are encouraged to say, ‘Hey, I don’t know the answer but let me get that answer for you.’”

Allen admits Wegmans may not always meet everyone’s expectations. If a conflict arises, he makes sure to understand the problem first. “We try to make it right in the eyes of the customer,” he says.

Whether it’s a replacement or a refund, Allen says the employees strive to satisfy customers’ requests, within reason. Then, customers are informed of alternate or more services the store offers.

“This conversation usually leads to a handshake and an invitation to ask us again in the future for anything they may need,” Allen says. “Some of our best customers are those that have had a concern in the past.”

Louis Alberta, owner of Bauhaus Hair Design Studio on Haddon Avenue in Collingswood, says he and his staff will go to great lengths to please the customer. “We will do what we can to accommodate everyone,” he says.

Customer service is his staff’s top priority, he says, and that starts right when you walk in the door. A staff member will take your jacket, offer you coffee, and make sure you’re kept up to date if a designer is running behind or finishes early.

However, Alberta realizes that in his field, “you cannot please everyone.”

“We already know we can do your hair and we’ll do the best possible thing we can do,” he says. “If you’re not happy, of course it’s something we can fix.” Alberta and his staff will always fit unhappy clients into their schedule and fix the problem, he says.

Marcia Mondelli, general manager of Johnson’s Corner Farm in Medford, knows how loyal their customers can be and she wants to keep them coming back all season.

“I really believe we have to look at who our customer is,” Mondelli says. “I also have to listen. We spend a lot of time in one-on-one conversations.”

Johnson’s is known as an “agritourism” destination, Mondelli says. There’s a farm market, barnyard, activities like hayride pumpkin picking, apple picking and more. Families visit the farm daily three seasons out of the year, so customer retention is a must, Mondelli says.

The key, she adds, is to be adaptable.

An example of that was to bundle dinner items together for on-the-go shoppers. Johnson’s also rewards its customers by offering season pass deals and free fruits and vegetables with a purchase if there’s overstock.

They also answer specific requests; the farm market started carrying lemon pie and applesauce cake after conversations with customers. They’ve also added a splash pad for kids to cool off on hot days.

“Before an event, we have meetings to think about what we’re going to do. We’re extremely proactive,” she says. “We anticipate our guests’ needs before they happen.”

When a situation does occur, Mondelli says she goes into it knowing what to say already, but will always hear the customer out first. After the problem is resolved, Mondelli tells the customers she will let the Johnson family know of any issues—and she does.

To quote another adage, “A happy customer is a repeat customer.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 2, Issue 6 (June, 2012).
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