Customer service workshop draws 180

Don?t be surprised if your next visit to a Hillsboro business is greeted with even more helpfulness than usual.

About 180 workers representing 28 local businesses participated in a crash course on better customer service practices Thursday during a free workshop co-sponsored by the Hills??boro Chamber of Com?merce and the Hillsboro Development Corp.

Jan Jantzen, director of Rural Tourism Development in Kansas, told the 120 people who gathered at the Hillsboro Men?nonite Brethren Church for the morning session and the 60 who came to the evening session that improving customer service is the most cost-effective way to increase a business?s customer base, profits and, ultimately, the wages of staff members.

?You can?t expect to get paid more money if there isn?t money to pay you,? said Jantzen, who has been engaged by HDC as a customer service ?coach? for the community over the next two or three years.

The workshop sessions on Thursday were a follow-up to a general presentation on the importance of customer service made May 26 to about 60 local business owners and managers.

?The turnout tells me that Hillsboro businesses are not satisfied with business as usual,? said Clint Seibel, the city?s economic development director. ?As we learned in the workshop, good customer service results in higher customer satisfaction, more retained customers, higher price premium and profit margin and lower staff turnover.?

Thursday?s sessions provided how-to training for the employees who serve as a business?s front-line ambassadors.

Beyond the financial incentives for offering good customer service, Jantzen said it?s intrinsically rewarding for the people who provided it.

?There?s just something about serving people that?s immensely satisfying to the human psyche?even if that service consists of taking an order, giving out information or selling a pair of shoes,? he said.

Jantzen?s presentation included a list of 10 customer tips, a list of 16 customer-service mistakes to avoid, and a list of 12 phone-answering tips.

Beyond basic customer courtesies, Jantzen challenged workers to be bold and creative in coming up with ?outrageous? solutions to customer problems that would be ?gossip worthy? and add a ?wow? factor to the transaction?even if the solution isn?t immediately cost effective.

Examples of that could be giving the customer a discount for his next purchase, or a free gift, or delivering an item at his home even if it wasn?t part of the store policy.

Jantzen mixed his input from the stage with other teaching approaches, including small-group brainstorming ideas and solutions, and having two volunteers?Brian Harper of Midway Motors and Barb Nowak of Emprise Bank?role play both bad and good customer-service scenarios.

Seibel began the meeting by reminding those in attendance that rural communities are in a battle for their economic survival. He said he?s driving into some small towns in Kansas where the speed-limit signs may as well have been cemetery-entrance signs.

The good news, he said, is that Hillsboro has put itself into a position to compete, and that the turnout for the customer-service workshops indicate the local business community is willing to do even more in the months and years ahead.

?To be effective, customer service needs to be emphasized by everybody in town,? Seibel said. ?If someone has a good experience at a local business, many times (the customer) will stop at a neighboring business to buy gas, food or something they had not planned on buying. They might even decide they would like to live here.

?As Jan has said, ?When the tide is up, the fishing is good for everyone.? Of course, the reverse is true as well.?

Seibel said a third customer-service workshop is planned for sometime next year.

?Our first plan was to have a third session right after Thanks?giving,? he said. ?Right now, we feel like we had a great turnout and received a lot of customer-service ideas. We think it?s probably best to give businesses and their employees some time to develop these ideas for a while before hitting it again.?

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