Speaker: Customer Service Reps Born, Not Trained

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PALM BEACH, FL -- Some people will never be good customer service representatives no matter how much training they receive, Dave Ratner of Dave's Soda and Pet City said yesterday at the DMA Teleservices Conference 2002.


Ratner, who gave the keynote speech at the conference held here at The Breakers Hotel, told the audience that such people may have other good skills but must be kept away from customers.


"You either get it or you don't get it," said Ratner, who started with $5,000 of borrowed money from his father in 1975 and now owns a chain of three superstores in Massachusetts. "People who are really good should be the superstars of your organization."


Ratner gave an example from his business of an employee who was technically brilliant and an expert at maintaining the store's inventory of fish and reptiles. But one day when a tearful boy returned a dead pet turtle in a paper bag, the employee tossed it in the garbage and said, "Yep, you killed it."


Ratner said he suggested the employee start working the midnight shift, after the store had closed.


Good customer service representatives should be empowered to solve customer problems, Ratner said. Solving a problem immediately often can turn a problem customer into a sale.


Ratner related an incident when a customer informed him that a dog she had bought had experienced a hip problem and would require surgery costing $2,600 per hip. Fearful that the customer would demand that he pay the cost of the procedure, Ratner told the customer he would do anything to make her happy.


The customer decided to pay for the procedure herself and requested only the price of her purchase back, which Ratner provided immediately. Later, Ratner said, the customer visited his store again and called a friend on her cell phone suggesting she buy a puppy.


"When there is a problem with a customer, let the customer tell you what they want to make it right," he said. "Ninety-nine out of 100 times, they will want way less than what you would have offered."


Building customer relationships is the most important aspect of business, Ratner said. Personalized service can give a small business an edge over a larger one offering better deals.


"Customers have to trust you," he said. "If customers trust you, you can sell them anything. Business is relationships."


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