You take off your glasses and rub your eyes.
You look at the numbers again.
This is not why you set up your small retail store!
Not to constantly make poor sales…
And then the suggestion box begins to give you answers. You can no longer ignore the information. You need to fix your poor customer service. And fast.
But you’re not alone.
Poor service is ruining many a small retail store and keeping the owners up at night, drinking rum and pulling out their hair.
The common practice is to blame your sales associates for poor customer service, and threaten them with dismissal, if sales don’t improve fast.
But let’s be clear. It’s not just the service which your sales associates deliver that you need to fix. That’s only the type that’s most highly visible.
You see, poor service takes other forms, not usually recognized by retail store owners. And that’s why a lot of poor service in retail businesses just doesn’t get fixed.
Let me change that for you right now.
Here are my 10 things you can easily fix that will rescue your retail store from poor service and improve your bottom line in the process.
Ready? Let’s jump in.
1. Make sure that your retail store is adequately stocked
Before you start telling me about the cost of doing this, let me explain what I mean.
One of the very important things you must know about your business, is who are your key customers, and what are they most pressing wants.
With this in mind, a great way to service them, would be to ensure that the main items which they buy, are always in stock.
But that’s not often the case.
Most retail store owners take the fear-driven approach, in which they try to stock a little bit of everything, in the belief that this will increase sales but it seldom does.
This means that the needs of your core customers are regularly ignored, resulting in a serious case of poor service to an important segment of your business.
And no amount of good customer service by your sales associates can compensate for the frustration of the stock-outs created by your poor stocking approaches.
2. Put a dollar amount on poor customer service
One of the most eye-opening activities I like to take my clients through, is to put a dollar value on their poor customer service. This includes mistakes, returns and complaints.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say your small store is open Monday to Saturday and operates 2 shifts a day.
You collected the information I ask you to and you discovered that you might lose $37 across a shift due to poor customer service. Not an amount to worry about, right?
Except for this:
$37 per shift is $74 a day. $74 a day by approximately 350 “open” days in a year is a whopping $25,900!
If this is not enough to make you fix your poor customer service, then you might as well buy ice and fry it.
3. Use your surveillance camera to improve poor service
Are you one of those business owners who put in an expensive surveillance camera system to spy on employees and or to catch thieves?
But did you know you can also use it to improve poor service in your retail store?
No? here’s how…
Review your camera footage for a period of 4 – 6 weeks, specifically checking the movement of shoppers through your store.
You are looking for a pattern or trend of how they move through the store.
When you have identified this trend, you should then layout your store in such a way, that the items these shoppers want to buy and the ones you want to sell them, follow that path.
In this way, you will improve your cash flow as well as the service you give to your customers.
4. Understand the job of the Sales Associate
To do this, you probably need to understand the difference between marketing and selling.
Very simply, marketing is every and anything you do to attract shoppers to your retail store.
This includes your window displays, ads, promotion material, discounts, sales, etc.
Many small business owners believe it is the “full out” job of Sales Associates to market the business. Believe me, this is simply not their job.
When your effective marketing drive people to your store, that’s when your Sales Associates take over and the selling begins. That’s because their job is to work very hard to get the sale.
So important is this that you the owner, your Store Manager and the Sales Associates must be very clear that this is the yardstick by which their performance is measured.
You can improve the poor service in your store, if you train your Associates to make sales driven by your incredible customer service, in accordance with your high standards.
5. Be crystal clear about the role of the Store Manager
If you need to be clear about the job of the Sales Associates, then you need to be crystal clear about the role of the Store Manager.
Generally, their job is to be responsible for the running of the store and managing the associates. This includes daily on-the-job training for employees, motivating them and holding them accountable.
The Store Manager is also that crucial link between the owner and the customer.
However, in many small retail stores, especially in hard economic times, store managers are expected and even required to perform the duties of sales associate.
When Store Managers are working on the floor, it is difficult for them to effectively resolve any customer service problem that arises. This is because the customer sees them as just another associate and might insist on seeing the owner to have their problems resolved.
If you can maintain the separation of duties between the two jobs, you can also maintain a competitively high standard of customer service.
6. Pay attention to your internal customer service
If you do not treat your staff well, and if your staff does not treat each other well, there is little motivation for them to treat your customers any better.
Think about it…
If you don’t care about them, why should they care about your customers?
The world-renowned Ritz-Carlton has as its motto:
We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.
Their employee promise goes on to state:
At The Ritz-Carlton, our Ladies and Gentlemen are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests.
The amazing thing is, that with over 40,000 employees, they consistently deliver on this promise.
Yet among small retail stores, I come cross too many instances where the owners treat their employees less than decent. They disrespect them as people, they disrespect their job positions and may even call them out in front of customers.
Can you expect an employee that you treat like that to deliver even standard customer service?
Even if you expect it, they won’t.
If you really want to improve your poor service, follow this Ritz Carlton example.
When your business is not a happy place to work, it shows up on your employees’ faces. The customers feel the tension in your retail store and they take their business elsewhere.
7. Pay attention to how your Sales Associates greet shoppers
Do you know that rushing up to a customer, as soon as they come through the door with some version of “how may I help you?” is the worst way to greet a customer?
Why? Because most customers believe you’re aggressively trying to pin down why they’re in your store, when you do this.
It really is poor customer service and it often leads to the customer giving a non-committal or rude answer that turns off the associate who asked in the first place.
But however much I train retail staff not to rush up to customers and ask “how can I help you?” as soon as they walk through the door, most business owners undo this.
It’s because they fear that if a customer comes through the door and somebody is not on them immediately like Labron on ball” s/he will walk out the store without buying anything. Research show the opposite to be true, though. .
So, what should happen?
When a shopper comes into the store, your Sales Associate should greet the shopper pleasantly.
For example: Hello, I am Lorna, welcome to Sweet Connections!
Then give the customer time to wipe their faces (I live in a tropical country) put their car keys in their bags or pockets, get their bearings or whatever, and begin looking around.
Only allow 20 – 30 seconds for this.
Then, it’s time to find out how you can help them.
This approach easily improves customer service. The interaction is pleasant because the customer is not under the impression that you think they are in your retail store to shoplift.
8. Understand what the customer is buying
Nine out of the ten customers who walk through your door are looking for a solution.
Don’t believe me? Think about the following…
- When a customer buys a drill, it’s the solution for boring a hole
- The one that buys a broom is really buying a solution for cleaning the house
- If I buy a toothbrush, I’m buying the means to clean my teeth
Yes…customers do want a complete solution.
One of the fastest ways to improve poor service is to teach your associates to build rapport with your shoppers before they try to sell them just “something”.
When they do, they get a better idea of the problems the shoppers are trying to solve and can then sell them a complete solution.
This is far better than selling them an item and then asking: “anything else?”
This is also good for your bottom line, particularly because your Sales Associates are doing what they are supposed to do…Sell.
9. Establish a culture of listening in your business
Want to improve poor service in your retail store?
Establish a culture of listening in your business.
First, your Associates must learn to listen – really listen, to your customers. That’s the best way they can understand the customers’ problems.
Next, they can restate these problems to the customers, letting them know that their problems are truly understood.
That’s when they can properly sell them the solutions that are right for them.
Similarly, Managers can’t lead effectively unless they can listen to Associates’ real concerns and act on them.
However, don’t expect to understand an employee’s needs from a single conversation.
Continue to be an attentive listener so that the employees know you are sincerely interested in what they have to say.
In this way you improve the internal as well as the external customer service.
10 Train, train and then retrain
It is common practice for small retail stores to engage in a single round of training and believe that a problem is fixed.
And I get that.
You don’t have the money and very often, you can’t find the time for the training in the first place.
But the bigger problem is, this widespread belief that learning ends when the workshop is over.
The truth is, the real learning starts when employees go back to work and begin to apply their new skills to real live customers and situations.
You see, once they are back on the job, employees usually have many questions, issues or concerns. Many of these require reflection, coaching, and additional development.
This is why follow-up is critical and continuous training is necessary.
A good approach is to have a manager, trainer, or mentor available to help employees apply what they learn in the correct way.
In addition, there should be structured refresher training to ensure that your staff can keep giving the customer service you want them to.
Your next step…
The retail sector is a very competitive sector.
And it is true that poor service is ruining many retail stores.
But it does not have to be true for YOUR store.
That’s because, I’ve just given you 10 ways to recognize and fix your poor customer service.
It would be a shame if you were to take this information and do absolutely nothing about your service.
But that’s not your style. You will fix your poor service…and you will fix it NOW!
So do me a favour and start your fix with #6. It is so important and when this is fixed, addressing the others become very easy.
And be sure to let me know how it worked out for you…will you?