Hills instills employee incentives, work ethic to lure repeat business

Hills instills employee incentives, work ethic to lure repeat business – Hills Department Stores

At Canton, Mass.–based Hills Department Stores, good customer service is equivalent to “psychic income,” said president Michael Bozic.

Customers have to be given every reason to come back into the store and employees need to know how to make that happen, he said.

As a result, Hills developed its Care program, a series of rewards to associates for providing good customer service. The 8-year-old program rewards associates on-the-spot for a job well done. It also rewards them with service pins and Associate of the Month plaques and gift certificates.

“In order to develop good customer service in an organization, the associates have to understand that giving good customer service is fundamental to our business,” said Bozic.

The executive noted that in the markets in which Hills operates, the population base is either stable or shrinking. Therefore, customer service is often a distinguishing characteristic for a store. Providing customers with a little extra support or courtesy could be the difference between a loyal customer or a dissatisfied one.

“Customer service is such a buzzword, added Robert Stevenish, Hills’ executive vice president for store operations. “Every person in the organization has to believe it. For them [associates] to believe in it, management has to make them feel important,” Stevenish explained.

Through Care, Hills attempts to recognize appropriate customer service, not just exemplary acts.

For example, Bozic noted one day while walking a Pittsburgh store with Discount Store News that a store associate picked up a piece of popcorn that was on the floor in front of the snack bar.

“See that,” he said. “That’s what I’m talking about. It’s the small things that count.”

Under the Care program, associates are recognized for big and small customer service achievements by in-store management or traveling executives.

An associate spotted for performing outstanding service is immediately rewarded with a coupon for a free soft drink and pretzel at the store’s snack bar. At the end of the month, the store manager of each store collects the coupons and gives winners a white Hills Cares button, said Glenn Ryerson, director of marketing and consumer for the Midwest regional discounter.

From all the monthly winners, a grand prize winner is selected. That person receives a $50 Hills gift certificate and a plaque with his or her name on it. That plaque is then displayed in the store identifying the winner as Employee of the Month. On the associate’s fifth Care program award, he or she receives a black and gold Hills Cares pin. A 10-time winner receives a gold name badge, said Ryerson.

But customer service at Hills transcends associate awards. The 154-unit discounter, which hopes to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, is trying to instill a service ethic in its employees. “We try not to point to merchandise but to walk customers back to the area. Any customer who is in distress, we try to help them out,” Ryerson noted.

Karen Woyt, a jewelry sales cashier for Hills for the past year, feels her job as a Hills associate is important. She told DSN that two of the six Care buttons she wears on her smock were for helping a customer who couldn’t figure out which watchband to buy or how to put it on. She also noted that she even helps customers who come into the store looking for assistance attaching a watch face to a new band not purchased at Hills.

That customer will probably come back, she said.

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