Even with a slew of online options, shoppers still cherish the ability to touch and feel merchandise they plan to purchase. But bricks and mortar stores have particular challenges because they deal with their customers face to face. Not only must internal systems assure happy shoppers, staff must be able to deliver a level of service that keeps business booming. On-target strategies generate repeat business and more referrals, and render marketing efforts more efficient and effective.
Here are some classic methods - addressing both customers and employees - to establish and meet customer expectations:
Customer Relation Basics
Treat the customer as a valued friend, with a relationship based on respect and individual needs, and let your business methodology reflect this. Here are some tips:
- Simplify the buying process by making it easy to finance purchases through cash, credit or layaway.
- Honor commitments for delivery and condition of merchandise.
- Seek out dissatisfied customers and commit to improving their experience.
- Provide follow-up for customer satisfaction.
- Develop methods to reduce costs and add value for customers in every transaction.
Customer Friendly Systems
Successful store owners will point out that exceptional customer service starts at the very heart of the system - and begins long before the first shopper walks through the door. Use these guidelines to make sure your business protocols are customer friendly:
- Establish a cost-effective, value-added product/service menu.
- Provide product assembly service.
- Offer extended warranties.
- Suggest compatible items (e.g. headphones for a sound system).
- Offer discounts for multiple product purchases.
- Draw customers through special discounts (e.g. Senior Citizen Day, store credit cards, etc.).
- Set up a Quality Assurance structure. Although QA structures most closely align with manufacturing processes, much can be done in the retail environment to improve the quality of goods and services.
- Invest in software which captures details about customers for tracking customer demographics and revenue/expense-generation activities.
- Utilize CRM as a feedback mechanism for customer complaints.
- On a non-technology level, organize product displays to reduce damage and theft.
- Employ "secret shoppers" to evaluate staff performance.
- Make it easy for customers to pay. A business needs clear guidelines for establishing and validating forms of payment, whether cash or credit. What’s more, systems should facilitate collecting payments, too. To this end:
- Offer customers an incentive for paying early.
- Establish a disincentive for paying late.
- Be persistent.
- Before turning matters over to a collection agency, negotiate. For instance, offer to reduce the amount owed in exchange for immediate payment.
Guarantees and Warranties: Get It in Writing
Putting the terms of sale on paper can keep customer relations positive - even when problems arise.
A guarantee or warranty is a promise or assurance that something is of specified quality, content and benefit, or that it will perform satisfactorily for a given length of time. Before statutory law, the buyer had no warranty on the quality of goods. Caveat emptor or "Buyer Beware" was the rule. Now, the law requires that goods must be of "merchantable quality."
Warranty can be difficult to enforce and may not apply to all products. Product warranty or guarantee, like a refund policy, act as an assurance that the business honors its commitment to its customers for quality products.
When developing a store guarantee program, think about the following:
- Most store guarantees are driven by the manufacturer's guarantee.
- In-store guarantees should match manufacturer specifications, if applicable.
- Guarantees are legal statements and should be developed through an attorney.
- Force majeure is a legal term defining limited liability, such as an "Act of God" or other circumstance that voids the guarantee.
Quickly addressing customer complaints can help a business grow and prosper, while ignoring issues can result in revenue loss or even litigation. A strong, successful plan to address customer issues incorporates technology, employee training and constant vigilance to follow up on problem resolution.
- Listen to the complaint and correct the problem even if it means a loss of profit. If the complaint leads to corrective action in the way customers are served, profits will increase in the future.
- Software tools to manage complaints provide a centralized platform for receiving complaints and storing documentation. A single, cohesive system helps to formulate a strategy for resolution.
- Since it is sometimes difficult to determine if a complaint is valid or not, a business may defer to the customer the first time - tracking software can identify if a customer is a repeat complainer.
- Train front-line staff to handle complaint resolution actions. Allow staff decision-making flexibility. Develop escalation procedures through company channels.
- Customer feedback is important to make improvements and indicates concern for customer opinions. Feedback/comment forms should be readily available - some companies offer rewards to encourage suggestions.
To-the-Point Product Return Policies
In a retail store, refund policies should be posted at the cash register to disclose return requirements at the point of purchase.
Stipulations to include in a bricks and mortar refund policy are similar to their electronic counterparts:
- Receipts, tags, or packaging
- Credit slips, with or without time limits
- Return time constraints
- Shipping cost options
As a nod to customer service that's a cut above the competitors, think about:
- Accepting returns at any location (in the case of multiple stores)
- A no-questions-asked return policy
- Discounts for future purchases
As part of a new hire orientation, employees should receive a handbook spelling out the values and standards of the company. Most companies take policy violations seriously, and repeated infractions could subject the employee to termination.
Retail stores present a visual aspect of a customer/staff interaction not present in the online or telephone relationship. An employee's clothing and attitude in particular send signals that reflect personal or cultural identity, or even an effect adverse to the retail environment. To maintain a consistent signal that reflects the company's image, explicit company policies for employees should be:
- Professionally developed
- Legally reviewed
Happy, satisfied employees will replicate their positive outlook in their customer service protocols. These guidelines go a long way to making this happen:
- Hire smart people and train them well.
- Reward employees who provide excellent customer care, perhaps with financial incentives or days off.
- Strive to communicate clearly and honestly.
- Cultivate a fun and friendly workplace.
Customer Service Training
Good service is so critical that one or two training sessions won’t do. Educating your staff regularly and consistently will make positive treatment of customers a habit. Keep these tips in mind:
- Thoroughly educate staff on your products and services so they can most effectively help the customer.
- Stress the importance of a friendly demeanor and willingness to establish rapport with customers.
- Teach employees to always exceed the customer's expectations.
- Train employees to up-sell other products/services - that customers truly can use - in an open, helpful manner.