by Brandon Griffing
Retail business executives have reams of analytical data to pour over in pursuit of improvement and have the technology allowing for unprecedented levels of support. Inventory management sophistication has reached new levels and marketing and point-of-sale advances continue. With all of this progress, retailers at all levels are still struggling to provide a consistently great experience for customers.
A major home electronics retailer that has been struggling (market capitalization of $8.4 billion and established in 1966) just announced they would begin experimenting with new stores focusing more on customer service. With all the resources at their disposal and years in the industry, the board and executives are finally cognizant of the poor experience customers have had at their existing stores.
Why is there such a disconnect with the majority of retailers today?
The answer is: a lack of understanding of key customer service fundamentals and not having a steadfast commitment to consistently deliver those fundamentals. Retail executives and store owners must exhibit a core belief in the return on investment required to create a vibrant and successful customer experience if they expect to prosper in the hyper-competitive, multichannel retail world.
Entrances set the initial tone for the customer’s service experience. Ever walked into a party or other gathering and no one acknowledged the presence of the guest? That is exactly the feeling customers have in the majority of retail stores as they walk in and are not greeted. The initial point of contact is vital to setting the tone for the rest of the customer’s experience in the store. Stores that do not greet customers in an authentic manner are guilty of treating customers with indifference. Some stores do greet customers, but without a true understanding of how to do it correctly. Everyone has had the experience where they are greeted by a lethargic associate in a halfhearted manner. Train associates to greet customers authentically and enthusiastically.
Step 2. The Answer is, “Yes.” What Is the Question?
Many retailers say “no” more often than “yes.” Stores must be solution providers. Customers come to retailers with challenges they want solved – that is the essence of retail. Customers want their challenges solved successfully, expediently and in a pleasant manner. Hire bright, empathetic associates and then empower them to do whatever it takes to delight the customer. Effective and prosperous retailers create an enthusiastic and loyal fan base through the actions of empathetic and empowered associates.
Step 3. Know the Inventory Better Than Customer
Train associates to be knowledgeable about the store’s inventory. Today’s customers are well informed, yet no one knows everything all the time. The great retailers teach their associates to use the phrase, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Equip associates with tablets or smart phones so that they can readily provide expert information and can stay updated on product line changes. At the very least, instruct them to find out from another associate if questions come up they cannot answer.
Step 4. Dodging Customers is Not Allowed
It is imperative associates make eye contact and verbally acknowledge customers when working on the sales floor. Besides being the right thing to do, it is the retailer’s best defense against “showrooming.” Some associates appear to be making a conscious effort not to interact with customers.
Step 5. Magic Words and Phrases That Help Propel the Customer Experience
Retailers can easily stand out and add to the customer experience by training associates to routinely use some phrases and words that customers love to hear. Store trainers should insist that associates use these phrases when interacting with customers. Here are some examples:
“Thank you for shopping with us”
“Thank you for stopping in tonight”
“We appreciate your business”
Step 6. Proper Customer Exit Strategies
Proper customer exit strategy is the icing on the cake. The exit message is just as important as the initial greeting. It is imperative that associates say, “Thank you” to customers during the check out procedure. The ubiquitous phrase, “There you go,” and the equally annoying phrase, “No problem,” must be banished.
Associates should also consistently thank customers who leave without a purchase. Of course, the goal is to have customers leave with purchases; however, this is the last chance to have positive interaction with customers. Implement exit strategies that strive to have the customer depart with a great feeling about the store, so they have a strong desire to return.
Retailers who consistently execute and innovate using the fundamentals of excellent customer service will continue to thrive. To do so requires a directed effort, a true commitment, continual observation and correction, and constant improvement from everyone within the organization.
Brandon Griffing is principal and founder of Austin-based Retail Strategies Consulting Group LLC.
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