Customer Experience. It can seem like something really scary to small budget retailers.
After all, some stores are implementing expensive technology or other big budget items to provide a more unique customer experience. This article suggests the future of shopping is going to be a massive entertainment experience involving what is essentially a circus.
But I come with good news: good customer experience does not have to be expensive at all. It can be essentially free. In fact, the most important cornerstones of a good customer experience are free, no matter your budget size.
Customer experience encompasses everything that goes into the sale environment – lighting, sales associates, even neatness.
Why is customer experience important? It’s what sets retailers apart in a world where customers can get good quality products for extremely cheap. Clothing brands can easily make copies of haute couture and sell it for nothing; quality cookware can be had a bargain; sturdy furniture comes for a song. Products and prices no longer can set retailers apart. That leaves retailers to set themselves apart primarily by the experience they offer their customers.
So now that we’ve established all that, let’s talk about the ways a small budget retailer can provide a phenomenal customer experience without ever spending money on big ticket tech items.
1. Build relationships with your clients.
Honestly, this is the #1 most important thing for a retailer to do no matter what. Except maybe have products to sell. Building relationships with clients doesn’t just mean being buddies with a regular. Building a relationship should be a part of the sales process. This starts the moment a customer walks through the door and shouldn’t end until they’ve at least walked out that door again. Ideally, it carries on much longer.
What are the things you need to do to build relationships with your customers?
Train your employees in sales.
The very best sales people are the best at building relationships with their clients. This means your sales people should be greeting every customer who walks in and then continually following up with them. In follow-ups, the sales person needs to identify exactly what brought the customer into the store and what their needs are. Sales people should be trying to make connections during these conversations as well. I always found when working retail that I was far more likely to make a sale to someone I was able to find common ground with than to someone I couldn’t. Sales people should be trained to hand off customers to another sales person if they can’t make a connection and someone else can.
Train your employees to become good listeners.
There is a multitude of reasons for this.
- Only with good listening can a sales person actually discover what things someone needs or wants.
- Good listening is incredibly important when a customer’s upset. Most of the time, I’ve found that upset customers really want to rant and if you let them do that and nod your head the whole time, that, right there, solves a lot of problems. Plus, if you don’t actually listen to them, you may not get the problem solved.
- Depending on your product and store set-up, sometimes customers really just need someone to listen to them. A lot of women, in particular, go therapy shopping and it’s always wonderful to find someone who will listen. As a sales associate at a woman’s clothing store, I can tell you, good listening was an incredibly important skill. I have had multiple women cry in my arms in the dressing room. I have heard more troubles and woes than some bartenders. And honestly, those customers became my best clients. We truly liked and trusted each other – we built strong relationships, and these clients came to consider our friendships synonymous with the brand. My relationships with them built their loyalty to the store.
Reasons addressed, let’s talk about a few things you can train your employees to do so that they can become active listeners. I don’t know anybody who is a natural active listener. Its a skill developed with a LOT of practice – after 3 years of sales, I’m still working on it.
- The most important aspect of active listening is to listen to the person speaking without forming a response while they’re speaking. It’s natural for people to latch on to one thing in a comment, form a response and then sit and wait for their turn to talk. Once a person has latched in somewhere, they have stopped listening.
- Sales associates should be trained to respond during customers’ comments with good body language. Open posture, nodding, smiling are all excellent ways to encourage a customer to open up. There is nothing that will turn a customer away and make them feel unappreciated faster than closed arms, gum-smacking, and a smirk.
- When the speaker has finished talking, employees should be trained to respond first with a quick summary of what was said. This actually serves a twofold purpose. First, a brief summary makes for a comfortable transition while the employee comes up with a response post-comment. It also can serve to draw out more information the customer may have initially not volunteered.
Finally, teach your employees how to build trust.
The most important thing in sales is to establish trust with your clients. This means that your sales people have to be committed not to selling as much as they can, but to selling the right thing to the right customer. From my own experience, this meant being willing to tell a customer that something she had tried on was not working for her. There’s a really easy script for this situation too, that can be adjusted for almost any product:
“You know, I just don’t think that [product] is working for you. I think if you try [other product], you’ll like the results a lot more.”
It’s really important to make these moments about how the product is wrong, not the customer, and then to offer an alternative. This kind of honesty from a sales person is a major plus in any customer’s mind. The willingness to say when something doesn’t work makes it far easier for a client to believe when the sales person says something does work.
Entrepreneur has a great mnemonic device to train your employees with: “T.R.U.S.T.”
- Understanding through uncommon efforts
- Take your time.
2. Personalize each customer’s experience.
Any touches you can add to personalize a visit for a customer is a TERRIFIC way to make for flawless customer experience. After all, if you’re personalizing it, you’re giving them an experience no one else can have. There’s a lot of different ways to do this.
One of the simplest ways is to make sure employees are trained to ask for and use customers’ names. As well, when employees remember returning customers, they should be trained to greet them by name.
You can get far more detailed with this, especially as you get to know customers (this is where all that good listening is going to come in handy). A perfect example of this comes from a store I worked for, actually. We had a customer who often complained about how she had to place her purse on the floor whenever she used the bathroom in our store. We decided to put up a hook in the bathroom especially for her – and we put a sign that said “[Customer’s name]’s Purse Hook.” She was absolutely delighted and it really helped prove to her that the brand was better than any other.
3. Don’t let your relationship end at the door.
Even if the sales person’s relationship ends at the door, your brand’s relationship should never end at the door.
There’re a lot of ways to do this and most will depend on your size and budget. One really easy way is to integrate email marketing into your retail management system. For a lot of systems, this is really easy. If you already have CRM functionality, often all you have to do is integrate the solution you choose. Many retail management solutions are designed to integrate easily with MailChimp, but you can check out some of the many MailChimp alternatives, several of which are cheaper. With email marketing, you can send your customers coupons, birthday e-cards, and updates on new products you think they’ll like.
But having sales people continue relationships with clients outside of store boundaries, especially as a small retailer, is a really great way to make extremely loyal customers. Probably the best way to do this is to have sales people send out handwritten thank you notes, get well cards, and birthday cards to the clients they have the best relationships with. It’s 100% worth the investment.
4. Make sure your environment is well thought out.
This shouldn’t need saying, but I’ve walked into plenty of stores only to walk right back out again because the environment was awful. I won’t even go into a Hollister because the environment looks so hostile. In the early ‘00s, Hollister was one of the “It” stores for teenagers, in large part because their environment was so “cool” (read: parent repelling). Hollister achieved this entirely by small details: loud music, dark lighting, spritzing a signature scent on all their clothes etc.
Hollister and Abercrombie are proof that little details in a store environment can make a really big difference, and as a retailer you need to pay attention to all of them.
A quick check list for you:
- Music – type and volume
- Hanger type (wooden, plastic, etc.)
- Neatness of product display
- Type of décor (glass and metallic fixtures will give a more edgy, modern vibe, for instance)
Last thing: Make sure your fixture layout provides your customers inviting walkways and intuitive stopping points. Also, it’s in your best interest to make sure products that go together are sold in the same area.
Those four things are all you truly need to provide a customer with an incredible experience. It’s a lot of work and requires a well thought-out plan to fully execute a flawless customer experience. Ultimately it does really boil down to training your employees well – if I had to put this down into one tip, it would be: invest in good employee training. Any great tips that I missed? Leave them in the comments below!
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