Over 154 Years of Service to the Furniture Industry
 Furniture World Logo

15 Ways To Boost Your Customer Service Competence

Furniture World Magazine


Part 1: Results of an important new study that can help you to improve your level of customer service.

Smart Retail Management By: Ron Wolinsky

All associates involved in customer service are your “ambassadors”. They can make a sale; break a sale; bring customers back or drive them away. It takes significantly less cost to build a sale with a current customer than to generate new business. In addition, research has proven that a customer who had a problem that was dealt with and solved professionally, will be more loyal than a customer who never had a problem.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” One way to escape from such an insanity-trap is to look for solutions “outside the box” of our everyday experience.

In this series of articles we will look at alternatives to providing a merely adequate level of customer service by examining the approaches taken by award-winning customer service providers.

So, in spite of the fact that most furniture retailers continue to serve customers the same way they’ve always served them, it is definitely worth investing time and resources in evaluating and improving your customer service efforts because:

• Business relationships are won or lost daily whenever there is customer service interaction.

• Whatever you do or say is carried throughout the community and reflects on the image of your company.

• Proper problem solving is as important as advertising, display, salesmanship, prices or products.

• Profits reflect proportionately your
ability to please the customer in all areas.

• Too many furniture retailers spend the majority of their budgets on generating new business, but spend too little on maintaining or increasing customer loyalty.


A study was conducted by General Electric in collaboration with a leading training and development company to identify the 15 Competencies that are utilized by twelve award winning customer service providers. These companies were PPG, MCI, S. C. Johnson Company, 3M Worldwide, General Electric, Lands End, General Motors, Tiffany & Company, Polaroid, Roadway Express, Florida Power and Light and the Cross Company.

The study revealed three major findings which were consistent among these organizations.

• An unswerving commitment to superior service.

• The thorough understanding of the skills, knowledge, and attitudes required for professional customer service.

• The empowerment of front line service associates with authority, resources and on-going education.

The study also found that each of these organizations had a sincere commitment to providing service excellence, and this sincerity always began with a philosophical commitment.
The philosophical commitment in turn, became an important part of each company’s objectives, planning and operations. All departments, whether they were involved in providing service for external or internal customers, kept this idea of service excellence in mind.

Furthermore, each company defined superior customer service as, “consistently exceeding customer expectations, better than their competitors!”


What does the customer service associate have to do to provide excellent customer service? A few years ago, the answer might have been, “to greet the customer, fix the problem, and go on to the next one as quickly as you can.”

Today, customer contact associates who provide outstanding service do much more than provide a quick fix. They must build customer relationships for the long term. They must seem to have the product knowledge of an engineer, the interpersonal skills of the counselor, and the perceptiveness and tact of the diplomat. To perform all of these roles, they must master a staggering array of competencies.

The study found that frontline customer service professionals must be proficient in the “15 competencies” that consist of the skills, knowledge, and attitudes prized by both customers and service providers. More than ninety specific behaviors that help to build these 15 competencies were identified by the study’s authors.

Organizations that are committed to superior service expect their customer contact associates to be proficient in all 15 competencies. Six of the fifteen, however, are considered to be most important to most companies, regardless of industry. These Universal Competencies, listed below in order of importance, are highly visible to customers. They are the competencies that the customer hears, sees, and feels the instant a service interaction begins.

The Universal Competencies

Without exception, organizations that pursue service excellence focus on the Universal Competencies. Their values, strategies, and tactics for service, specifically support their frontline professionals’ mastery of these competencies.

Let’s now take a look at the six Universal Competencies followed by some specific behaviors that customer service people can practice, to master that competency.

1. Builds Customer Loyalty & Confidence

  • Takes a proactive approach to meeting customer needs.
  • Establishes “partner” relationships to help customers.
  • Does what is feasible and sensible to maintain good will.

2. Empathizes

  • Displays Sensitivity to feelings of customers.
  • Recognizes different personalities and responds to the needs of each.
  • Interacts with customers, showing genuine concern and respect.

3. Communicates Effectively

  • Expresses self in an articulate easy to understand manner.
  • Demonstrates ability to influence others when appropriate.
  • Asks appropriate questions.
  • Makes appropriate use of written communication.
  • Demonstrates diplomacy.
  • Responds to customers to build positive relationships.

4. Handles Stress

  • Stays organized, calm and constructive in stressful situations.
  • Demonstrates tolerance, appropriate humor and patience with irate, difficult customers.
  • Controls emotions.

5. Listens Actively

  • Hears not only customer’s words but also their meaning.

6. Demonstrates Mental Alertness

  • Processes information quickly.
  • Learns and understands readily.

The Specific Competencies

Each service driven organization in the study also emphasized combinations of the remaining 9 competencies. These are called Specific Competencies because organizations may focus on them to varying degrees, depending upon their particular market, product, and customer needs. These competencies include hidden, behind the scenes activities as well as some that are highly visible to customers.

Let’s now review the Specific Competencies followed by some behaviors that customer service people can practice to attain their mastery.

7. Works Well as Part of the Team

  • Demonstrates ability to work cooperatively with others.
  • Maintains positive and productive relationships with all departments within the organization.

8. Demonstrates Reliability and Loyalty

  • Works consistently.
  • Demonstrates loyalty to company in words and actions.

9. Demonstrates Personal Motivation

  • Demonstrates caring, optimism, and helpfulness.
  • Shows interest in continuing self-development.
  • Maintains a sense of purpose.
  • Maintains positive, yet realistic self confidence.
  • Works independently with little direction

10. Solves Problems

  • Gathers and analyzes all the information for appropriate resolution.
  • Makes use of specialized knowledge to assist customers in resolving problems.
  • Demonstrates ability to troubleshoot a wide
    range of problems situations.
  • Thinks analytically.
  • Negotiates solutions.

11. Maintains Professional Image

  • Presents self well.

12. Understands Their Company & Industry

  • Demonstrates knowledge of the company’s industry.
  • Demonstrates understanding of other
    department’s functions & responsibilities.
  • Knows capabilities, tolerance and
    limitations of the organization.

13. Maintains High Energy Level

  • Sustains a high level of work activity.

14. Applies Technical Knowledge and Skills

  • Uses all state of the art resources to assist in work activities.

15. Organizes Work Activities

  • Takes an orderly and efficient approach to
    all tasks.


Customer Service is as much an attitude as it is a process. Customer issues are not problems and not negatives. They are opportunities to show how good we can be. Keep this thought in mind. We should give thanks for the complaining customer because at least that customer is giving us a second chance to try to exceed their expectations. The real problem lies with the customer who is unhappy and never complains, he just never comes back.


What value and importance do you place on customer service? How do you prepare your people to establish and maintain customer loyalty? How do you measure up to these benchmarks? These topics will be discussed in the next issue of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine.

Ron Wolinski is VP Performance Groups for Profitability Consulting. His expertise in management stems from the positions he has held such as Manager of Training for Art Van Furniture, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Contact Interiors, President of Behavioral Dimensions, Sales Education for the Simmons Company, National Director of Education and Development for Value City Furniture and most recently, Director of Education and Retail Services for La-Z-Boy, Inc.
He consults with retail organizations internationally on Consultative Selling, Communications, Leadership Skills, Organizational Development, Interviewing and Recruiting, and Customer Service. Questions relating to this article or to other related topics can be directed to Ron at  rwolinski@furninfo.com.