The Good Guys was recently honoured for their excellence in customer service by the International Customer Service Professionals (ICSP), an industry body for customer service professionals.

The award was decided by consumers who had taken part in a survey that covered 15 categories and asked them who impressed them with great customer service and how. The ICSP's Customer Service Excellence study benchmarked 200 companies and generated 29,000 customer reviews to identify exceptional customer service leaders.

The first important point for retailers to recognise is that great customer service starts well before the consumer walks into your store, and shoppers no longer differentiate between a brand’s online and physical presence.

“People are increasingly and rapidly leaning towards the internet more as a first point of call. In a lot of instances companies are now also pointing them that way as a first point of contact as well, basically because it helps with cost structure,” says Andy MacBeth, ICSP general manager.

The companies that are getting their digital strategies right had a noticeably higher score than those just paying lip service to having a website or Facebook page.

“We are seeing quite a lot of companies have a website or a social media touch point but it’s nowhere near as well run, resourced or easy to use as traditional touch points, such as so face-to-face or call centres.”

Macbeth says customers don’t see these as separate channels; it is all part of one experience. “So if you get that digital experience wrong that is going to reflect across the touch points as well,” he says.

According to the consumers surveyed, once they come into a store the worst situation they can encounter is a lack of staff to serve them. This is followed by inattentive staff talking to each other or using their phones.

A friendly, warm welcome came through as a key factor for a store to score strongly and for exceptional performance two more things stood out: product knowledge and being able to sell to consumers.

MacBeth said good sales staff must know their stuff and be able to provide in-depth knowledge, product comparisons and recommendations without making them feel overwhelmed by technical details.

“It is just being able to have that ability to explain something in clear and simple terms but not be patronising and not make the customer feel that they don’t get it. They want to be able to trust the knowledge and they want to be able to trust the recommendation as well, because it can be a difficult area in terms of technical knowledge.

“Also, being able to sell to them, do them a deal without being pushy and not trying to load them up with a whole lot of stuff they don’t need,” MacBeth says.

The ICSP plans to carry out this survey annually to monitor how individual players in each category are performing and to identify trends in consumer behaviour.