A panel of local business experts agrees, the customer experience depends upon attention to detail and managing expectations.

The Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast featured a panel discussion Feb. 19 on customer service with panelists Cyndi Wells, owner of Pet Pangaea; Cheryl Sowder, owner of Finishing Touch; and Claire Roybal, owner of Claire Roybal and Associates. About two dozen Chamber members attended the event, which was catered by Peggy Pendergast.

Wells advised those in attendance to “fall out of love with your products and services and fall in love with your customer.” She said in her own business she trains her employees to say “please” and “thank you,” and she rewards employee behaviors that lead to good customer service. She also invited her employees to help write the customer satisfaction policy, which guides how things are handled at the pet store.

Sowder said she also allows her employees latitude in making customer service decisions, as long as they fall within company quality standards.

“It’s all about that initial experience walking in the front door, where you feel comfortable – almost like a family,” Sowder said.

She attributes the 36-year success of her company to relationships built on attention to detail, getting to know her client as an individual and learning their personality style.

Roybal, whose company focuses on coaching businesses in marketing and customer service, advised training employees in recognizing their own body language and being aware of what they are communicating by the nonverbal messages they send to customers. She suggested business owners train their employees in recognizing that customer complaints are not personal attacks.

“Teach your employees conflict management skills,” she said, have them learn to empathize and sympathize.”

The trio presented a few exercises for business owners to try with their employees. Roybal recommended at the beginning of the day or shift, have your employees write a list of things they need to do. The list may include items such as: smile, be nice, etc… and at the end of the day, review the list to re-evaluate what was accomplished.

Wells took the group through a “Wiggle Words” exercise, which demonstrated how miscommunication and mismanaged expectations can occur through vague language. She illustrated that the following words should be avoided in customer service: often, usually, rarely, sometimes, probably, occasionally, almost always, typically, frequently, and hardly ever.

During a question and answer period after the presentation, a discussion arose about the shortage of experienced retail employees in Los Alamos. Sowder advised the group to hire for attitude, because skills can be taught.

Wells wrapped up the event with a Maya Angelou quote: “I learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

The next Chamber of Commerce Breakfast is 7:30 a.m., March 19 at UNM-LA. It will be a panel discussion on the Economic Outlook for Los Alamos, featuring panelists Patrick Sullivan, executive director of Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation; Eric Vasquez, REDI manager for the Regional Development Corporation; and Jeffrey Mitchell, PhD, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico. Tickets are $15. Register on the events page of the Chamber of Commerce website www.losalamoschamber.com or call 505.661.4816.

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