Customer Service Excellence Award

Winner: Sidmouth Garden Centre

At Sidmouth Garden Centre, staff are all devoted to creating a positive experience for all customers. Every day, the staff strive to exceed customer expectations.

The management believes that the small team has become great at what it does, but it will never rest on its laurels because it knows that the one major thing that sets it apart from the local competition is customer service and a love for what it does.

A few points about the team:

- Shop staff attend training days each year from Scotts, Bayer, Weber, Hartman and Kettler.

- More than 100 years of experience between the four key members of the plants team means one of them should will be able to answer any plant-related customer questions.

- There are now more than 30 years of experience among core shop staff, offering recognisable faces for customers and expert advice on shop products.

- The centre has two young yardsmen whose sole jobs are to help load cars, offer advice and help out with stock. The extra staff member has helped turnover of compost, fencing and stonewear jump over the past 12 months.

- On rainy days there is always a member of staff meeting customers at the car with an umbrella service.

A revamped delivery service helped grow garden furniture sales substantially in 2015. This is the biggest jump in any department Sidmouth has ever had, and the delivery service helped seal the deals offered:

- Free delivery and removal of old furniture (minimum spend £499).

- Price match guarantee (internet checked weekly and at the time of purchase).

- Free set-up and removal of waste.

- Two-person drop on larger sets for no extra charge.

- Next-day national pallet service when ordered before midday.

- Local same-day delivery service (seven days a week in season).

This personal service often saw the same sales person help to deliver the furniture later in the same day.

Sidmouth has learnt that it can extend its level of customer service through its website and Facebook page. It set up text alerts to two members of staff so they get a message when the centre receives an email. This means they can often answer within the hour (any time of day) and always try to give detailed answers.

There are now more than 2,000 followers. Sidmouth uses Facebook for fun, but also to conduct product tests, "before and after" comparisons and competitions. Facebook includes 90 unscreened reviews and they are all five-star rated.

A single post/advert reached just under 60,000 people within two weeks and for no cost. It is a quick and easy way for people to get in touch and share both pictures and tips. The trick is just to keep people involved and make them feel a part of it.

Sidmouth offers a plant finder service for harder-to-get-hold-of stock, aiming to source within 10 days for nine out of 10 requests. For £50, Sidmouth can deliver and plant in the same week.

In December 2014, Sidmouth introduced winter fuels to its range in a big way, with free local delivery for any purchase over £50. Sales jumped from the year before.

After entering the Garden Retail & Garden Industry Awards, Sidmouth owner Ian Barlow sold to his centre to Wyevale Garden Centres in October 2015. The centre has a total internal floor space of some 14,558sq ft, including approximately 2,854sq ft of restaurant. The acquisition of the centre brought the total owned by Wyevale to 150 centres.

Barlow said: "Wyevale Garden Centres shares our vision of providing fantastic customer service as well as a well-rounded product offering to our customers."

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