You say you want a revolution?

By Theresa Wells

Service with a smile is something that happens rarely in Fort McMurray.

Service with a smile is something that rarely happens in Fort McMurray.

I have been humming the song lyric in this title a good deal during my visit to our neighbour to the south, the lovely city of Edmonton. I have been enjoying some desperately needed vacation time with my daughter and my niece, and we have been indulging in some shopping and dining. One of the things we have noted during our time here is exemplary customer service, from restaurants to retail. It has made me realize we need a revolution in Fort McMurray – not a revolt of the traditional kind, where you are “against” something, but rather a revolt of the positive kind – the kind where you want to achieve a positive goal. And what is this goal? I think we need a customer service revolution, and a new attitude in how local businesses treat their patrons.

Now, I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush, as some local businesses, particularly the small locally owned ones, do very well in terms of customer service. But there is a very real issue with customer service in our community, and anyone who has spent time in our local shops and restaurants knows it.

Show of hands time. How often have you gone into a store and left because you were ignored for a period of time that seemed unreasonable? How many times in a department store were your questions answered with “That isn’t my department” and no further offer of assistance? How many times have you asked for help and been made to feel it was an imposition on the employee’s time? How many times has an employee been indifferent or even unfriendly? I suspect there are a lot of hands in the air right now, and many of them are clutching unspent bills as we left our shopping destination thwarted. Some of us, like me, came home and went online to order what we could buy locally but didn’t, because the customer service experience was just so lacking.

Look, I have great empathy for those who run small businesses here. It is a challenge to hire and keep great employees, and turnover is often high. I suspect it can even become a bit depressing at times, as the challenges are so significant. One of the realities, though, is that great customer service is not just good for the customers but good for the business and the employees, too. A positive atmosphere makes everyone around happier, and happy employees are more likely to stay. The onus for creating that atmosphere, and training employees to provide stellar customer service, falls to store owners and managers, who must find a way to infuse employees with enthusiasm and a desire to accomplish. Every job, no matter how menial, is worth doing well, and so employees must be shown the value of doing exactly that, especially if they are young and new to the working world. These early lessons will set the tone for the rest of their working lives, and they need this training so they can not only succeed at their current job, but in their future ones.

The question too, though, is how can customers create a great customer service experience? I know, you are thinking the customer has nothing to do with it – except that we do. We can encourage that positive atmosphere by commending those who do it well. Instead of only asking to “speak to the manager” after a bad experience (as we often do) we can ask to talk to the manager and tell them about the exemplary service their employee has provided to us. We can email the store or the company, or we can fill out those little “customer cards” some places provide. The point is that if we want to create great customer service then we can actually contribute to it by encouraging those who provide it. Success tends to build on success, and an employee that has received encouraging feedback is far more likely to stay motivated to provide great customer service – even on tough days.

The flip side is that when we get truly abysmal customer service we also need to let the employer know. We can do so kindly and without anger, but still forcefully enough that our displeasure is clear. We do not have to be subjected to poor customer service, and it is truly in the best interests of the business to know – which also means that business owners must remain open to considering these complaints, and evaluating their validity in a fair way as opposed to just dismissing them.

So, that’s the revolution I have been thinking about. I think Fort McMurray is long overdue for a customer service revolution, one that could have people boasting of our incredible customer service rather than muttering about the lousy experience they had. In most revolutions there are winners and losers – but in this one? Well, I think everyone is a winner, which makes it the best kind of revolution – and a very, very achievable one.

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