Making contact 

100-plus local businesswomen learn about customer needs,desires

By Vivian Moreau

Train your staff in customer service, hire a receptionist, and remember to thank both buying and browsing customers.

Just three tips customer service analyst Cathrine M. Ann gave to more than 100 Whistler businesswomen at a one-day networking conference held at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler this week.

Ann, who founded Vancouver-based Consumer Connections eight years ago, was the keynote speaker at Dazzle and Deliver, a day-long conference organized by women’s networking group, Women of Whistler, that included a four-panel morning forum and afternoon of five workshops that brought small and medium-sized business owners together to learn from each other’s successes and challenges.

Meeting her own challenges, such as when her new laptop died five minutes into her presentation, Ann stepped out from the podium to speak to business owners to provide a customer service rationale but also give practical tips on instilling good practices.

“In Whistler you may only see your customer once but treat them as a loyal returning customer,” she said, underlining the fact that visitors will leave the resort town and tell 100 to 1,000 people about their experiences here.

Spiced with stories from her own life, such as a recent incident in which she couldn’t order a hamburger without mustard because the counterperson couldn’t input the request into the computer, Ann said retailers need to be aware that customers today want to establish relationships with sales staff and that requires a different kind of thinking from 20 and 30 years ago.

“In the ’70s and ’80s it was all about providing fast information but today it’s about making contact,” she said, noting how bank customers are opting to stand in line more and more rather than head to the automated bank machine. “It’s not that they don’t want to do away with the ATMs, they want hi-tech but still want the touch (of personal service).” Ann said receptionists are becoming necessities again as consumers are increasingly fed up with voice message systems.

She also said companies don’t spend enough money on training staff in details of providing good customer service and noted it’s the small things — like teaching staff to maintain eye contact with customers, to listen to customers and acknowledge their needs, and to thank customers after a sale.

“Statistics show that after a sale a customer’s pulse rises from fear of making a bad buying decision,” Ann said, and that is the time when staff should confirm positive effects by maintaining eye contact and thanking the customer.

“Manners are noticed for their presence and their absence,” she said.

Ann’s message of “How to get customers to love you, rave about you, and keep coming back,” got through to many audience members.

“It was very much about getting to know your customers and building relationships as opposed to making sales, so I was really pleased with that,” said massage therapist Magda Regdos. “My business is very much oriented to touching base and getting to know people’s histories and caring quite a bit for each client, so it was really interesting to see that the business world and women in Whistler as well are encouraged to do the same on a business level.”

Regdos also attended a session on partnering and building alliances later that day that provided her with suggestions for building connections through referrals with competitors. The conference has encouraged her to explore networking further and Regdos said she is going to start attending bi-monthly meetings held by Women of Whistler.

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