Five practical tips you can implement today.
The customer is always right, but perhaps the customer should always be your inspiration, too. All stores, regardless of what products or services they offer, can take the opportunity to learn from their customers and grow their business in ways that meet their needs.
“Keeping customers loyal can mean the difference between a successful company and one that wastes its time, energy, and money endlessly chasing new prospects,” says Dorie Clark, contributing writer for Forbes.com (1).
Whether a store is brand new or has been in the family for generations, all businesses should constantly strive to improve customer service.
And, it all starts the moment the customer walks in the front door of the store. Customers not only want to be greeted with a friendly hello, but also a comfortable shopping environment.
According to Debby (Swoboda) Mayhew, founder of BrandingToppers.com, “The staff has to be aware of the impression that they make. That could be a dirty parking lot or fingerprints on the front door. The larger chains and other places have the staff to keep everything clean. When they walk in the store, what is the first thing they see?”
There are many ways stores can improve their appearance, and it does not have to break the bank. To help maintain a clean store, for instance, create a checklist that needs to be filled out each morning by an employee doing a sweep through the store. This will help ensure that problem areas are noted and taken care of before the busy hours of the day.
Also, keep a list of long-term goals and revisit them quarterly to see what can be tackled in the coming months. Consider breaking the list into must-haves for the year (like fresh paint and adding an extra refrigerator case that is desperately needed) and nice-to-haves (such as updated signage above your entrance).
If the store makes it past the first impression, it now has to focus on customer interaction. Especially in the competitive natural landscape of retail, meaningful one-on-one customer service can make or break a store.
“To keep a customer over the long term, you can’t treat the relationship as transactional; i.e., they give you money, and you give them a product or service,” says Clark (1). “Without a deeper connection, there’s no reason for them to continue to choose to do business with you.” The way you treat the customers, Clark continues, defines the store’s character and gives shoppers a reason to choose yours (1).
As opposed to retail giants like Amazon.com, having a physical location is a factor that stores can take advantage of. “With a brick and mortar store, you can get through to a person,” says Mayhew. “When you purchase something online, you can’t even find a phone number to call. The brick and mortar store has the opportunity to connect one-on-one with the customer.”
Train sales staff how to get to know their customers—by name even—in the aisles of the store. Make sure customers feel comfortable asking questions. Stores can even create a venue for collecting ideas for improvement, whether it is a suggestion box or online form, to find out what customers liked and what they did not like about their visit.
Turn Lemons Into Lemonade
Regardless of how nice employees and owners are to their customers, issues are going to happen. These problems could be as small as labeling a product with the wrong price tag or as big as a customer returning an expired bottle of fish oil. Store workers should not be afraid of problems and need to “embrace them knowing that you have the opportunity to turn a problem into a positive experience and a lifelong loyal customer,” according to Jay Jacobowitz, founder and president of Retail Insights, Brattleboro, VT, and merchandising editor for WholeFoods Magazine.
“Whether it is online or in the store, everybody messes up,” says Mayhew. “The biggest thing is what action we take when we take care of the problem. It gives up the opportunity to turn things around.” These issues are what can turn a disapproving customer into a regular customer, but that is only if the situation is handled properly.
For instance, Mayhew gives the example of a customer returning a burnt loaf of bread. Instead of offering what you think they would like, she suggests finding out what the customer would like to fix the situation in reason. She says, “Let (the customer) take action and that will satisfy them.”
Christine Tzumas, chief operating officer of Presence Marketing, South Barrington, IL, believes that businesses must “show that (the company) care(s) about them and that their business is truly important to (them).” Employees need to be able to treat customers with respect, especially when they are looking for the root of any issues that may arise. All issues, regardless of their size, need to be resolved quickly to give closure to the customers.
Make A Procedure
But, this will only work if the owner or manager, who has the authority to help with troubled customers, is present in the store at the time. Otherwise, Mayhew notes, “There has to be a process in place in the store where if that employee is not empowered, they know what action to take.”
Employees would need to know how to handle the situation if someone with authority is not around. Businesses need to offer a training program that informs their employees what to do in these situations. Some companies may suggest that employees write down the customer’s information to give to a manager when they arrive. Other stores may give employees the authority to offer a store discount, depending on store policy.
But, regardless of how the store decides to handle it, these moments will determine who your repeat customers are and will be.
Handling Online Reviews
But, what if the complaint or issue is not lodged in person or the bad review is online? “Address it head on,” says Tzumas. “Acknowledge the concern and your position on it. Maybe it’s regarding an area where you are already improving. Communicate, listen and then deliver.”
Jacobowitz also suggests that business owners need to attack the situation immediately. “You must respond to the negative review as soon as possible,” he recommends. “Apologize, and apply your normal customer service terms. Keep in mind that what you do to resolve a problem is often more important than the problem itself.”
Another piece of helpful advice comes from Micah Solomon, a contributing writer for Forbes.com. He encourages business owners not to “batch your surveys and then review them at the end of the month—scan them right away to see who needs to hear from you now (2).”
Regardless of how you handle current or newer customers, businesses are going to have issues and there will be unhappy customers. But, business owners can, as Jacobowitz suggests, “focus on those customers who value your service, selection, convenience and whatever else you bring to the table.” WF
1. D. Clark, “How To Keep Your Customers Loyal Forever,” Forbes, Feb. 2, 2015, accessed May 5, 2015.
2. M. Solomon, “20 Expert Customer Service Tips To Try Right Now,” Forbes. Oct. 10, 2014, accessed May 6, 2015
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2015