Customer Service at Retail Stores - 4 Ways to Give Great Service
Gas stations, grocery and big box hardware stores have trained customers how to do self-service scanning and paying without participation by store employees. Does this mean that the retail world is moving towards total self-service in a warehouse full of products? Hardly. Customer service will always be needed and welcomed by consumers. This article discusses customer service regarding sales of tangible goods (not services.)
What is Customer Service?
My seat-of-the-pants empirical definition is performance by an employee that demonstrates competence, honesty, respect, and responsiveness for the needs of the customer.
The Science of Friendliness
What Are Features of Exceptional Customer Service?
1. Know your product(s)
The more knowledge the better. Sometimes customers are highly informed about what they are purchasing. Other times, they can verbalize a vague notion of what their needs are, but will really benefit from a salesperson who can describe features, advantages, trade-offs, costs and more. Be able to serve both and everyone in the middle.
2. Invite customer to share needs and wants and truly LISTEN
Listen. Ask clarifying questions. Listen to the non-verbal body language. First of all, a salesperson must respect each shopper’s style of shopping. The words “invite” the customer to share information is very intentional. You invite; you cannot command. A phrase such as “Can I help you find what you are looking for?” is a good opening. If the customer makes eye contact with you and provides a short answer, you can direct them to a product or you can ask a short follow-up question to help you recommend a product. Sometimes a customer will say that he is just looking around. When that is the response, you must respect the customer’s wishes to be left alone. I might follow-up with a friendly few-words description of where the latest items are located but then I walk away. Customers usually thank me for this mini-map description – especially when they see that I really am walking away and letting them have their space.
For the times when a customer shares what she needs through the clarifying question approach and showing of products, I have been absolutely gratified that I can aid the customer in obtaining what she truly desired. Often, she is surprised and gratified as well. Truly, doesn’t it make sense that with an overwhelming array of choices available at my store, that the salesperson is the employee who should know the products and their features and locations? The salesperson is the “product professional.” The sales person is like a tour guide of the section or department.
3. Be honest
Think about the converse: being dishonest. What would the consequences be: that the customer feels betrayed and vows never again to shop at your store? Honesty is always the best policy.
4. Help the customer get what he wants
If your store does not carry the item, but you know of possible merchants who do have it, suggest those stores to the customer. Remember the movie Miracle on 34th Street? In it, the Santa Claus who worked at Macy’s Department store recommended other stores to parents who brought their child to sit on his lap if he felt that other stores offered a better deal or item than did Macy’s. Steering a customer towards the best fit for his needs can only build good will towards your store and you. You may be able to see gray areas for applying this principle. I do. However, when a customer requests an item with features x, y and z and my store clearly does not stock it, I feel that if I can suggest another vendor I have not supported a competitor and I will build good feelings about my store.
You Can Do It
Just follow the four guidelines and both you and your customers will find satisfaction.
- Know the product
- Be honest
- Help the customer get what s/he wants
Photo and text copyright 2012 Maren E. Morgan.