Working on the front line of retail was hard before the pandemic, today it is even harder. You sell in-store, online and on social media, making exceptional customer service as mandatory. Every associate must be kept up to speed on what is expected of them while at work, and every associate needs to ensure that whatever is expected happens. Let’s look at what you can do to improve your customer service and increase store sales:
1. Start with solid communication. You know the saying: Everyone needs to be on the same page, in the same book, but they can’t do that unless you make it happen. Consider setting up a weekly email blast for associates only that brings them up to speed on what’s happening in the store. You can do the same thing with a private Facebook Group or keep in daily contact with a myriad of available free apps. We like WhatsApp; it’s free to use and you can send messages, documents, photos, and videos, make voice calls, and even host video chats on mobile devices and desktop computers. If you are able to send the same message to all associates at the same time, choose whatever method works best for you.
It’s also a good idea to hold a 10 minute meeting with associates each morning before you open the doors for business, repeating it again whenever there is a shift change. You can leave people in the dark, but you can never over communicate.
2. Set a daily sales goal. No matter how long they have been with you, people need to know what is expected of them. If you have never set a daily sales goal you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more attentive associates become once they know you are keeping track of their productivity. Your POS system may be able to help here or you can simply ask customers at the cashwrap who helped them, and note it in a Daily Sales Goal Journal. Don’t just say you have a goal – write it down and put it in a place where every associate can see it.
3. Require everyone to doa mandatory 360 Degree Pass-By at the start of each shift. This exercise requires associates to do a quick walk through the store, noting what’s new, what has changed, and which areas need immediate attention. A daily 360 Degree Pass-By shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, but it will help associates – even your full-timers – become more familiar with what’s happening on the sales floor.
4. Answer the phone within four rings, the number typically programmed into answering machines and voice mail systems. There will always be exceptions but picking up the phone in four rings or less should be your norm.
If you are busy helping another customer and the phone rings simply request permission to answer the phone. Ask, “Would you mind if I answered the telephone?” If she says OK, take the call and offer the caller the choice to be placed on hold or opt for a call back within a specified time. If the customer says no, then let the call go to voice mail. But don’t rely on voice mail to answer every call.
In person we have a chance to make a judgement call about the person we are working with, but over the phone it’s a different story. We remember working with a retailer who had a pleasant store associate who didn’t sound so pleasant over the phone. After working with her for a while with no change Rich decided to hang a mirror over the telephone. He suggested that the associate look in the mirror and smile before answering the phone – it did the trick. Try it! It’s hard to sound bad with a smile on your face.
5. How the phone is answered builds a perception about the business. Know what drives customers crazy? This:
“Hello and thank you for calling XYZ Shop. We are open from 10:00 – 5:00 Monday – Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, 10:00 – 9:00, Saturday from 10:00 – 6:00, and 11:00 – 4:00 on Sunday. Our special today is ______________ and _______________. This is _______________. How may I help you?” Click. TMI.
Instead choose a short, standard greeting that everyone must use when answering the phone. Ours is, “It’s a great day at KIZER & BENDER Speaking! This is ____________, how may I help you?” It’s short, friendly and to the point.
6. Welcome shoppers as quickly as possible. It’s interesting that in our onsite studies shoppers who were greeted within 60 – 90 seconds say it took five minutes or more for someone to acknowledge them. It’s a perception thing – we call it customer time vs. real time – so say hello ASAP.
A warm smile and a hello are really all you need. Make eye contact and say, “Welcome to the store!” or “What brings you in to see us today?” Most customers will thank you, opening the door to a lengthier conversation. If the shopper needs help immediately, she’ll ask for it. When she doesn’t need help, offer a cart or a basket and invite her to browse at her leisure. You can check back later to see how she’s doing. But don’t ever say, “May I help you?” because the answer will almost always be, “No thanks, I’m just looking.” That question only works when the customer is clearly in a hurry.
We created the “7-Tile Rule” after watching shoppers roam too many sales floors unattended. Your goal should be to acknowledge every shopper every time your paths cross on the sales floor. React with a smile, nod, or conversation – whatever the situation requires. The 7-Tile Rule isn’t just a perception builder; if the shopper is up to no good, all that attention will send her right for the door.
This is also a good time to introduce yourself; people like to be addressed by name, so offer yours first. In fact, everyone should introduce themselves to at least five customers each day. When was the last time anyone at a big box store introduced themselves to you? Never? We thought so.
7. Watch your body language. What we are really thinking shows up before we ever say a word. Did you know that 7 percent of what we communicate to others comes from the words we choose, 38 percent is through tone of voice, but 55 percent of what we communicate is done through body language? It surfaces in how you stand, how you hold your head, and the look on your face. Sometimes standing with your arms crossed is just comfortable, but to the customer in front of you, it’s a barrier.
Keep cellphones off the floor or limit usage when shoppers are present, even when you are legitimately doing store business. Stay at least 6’ away from a customer’s personal space, and when you are having a conversation with another associate always stop and acknowledge customers who are nearby.
8. Ask the customer questions to determine what they came in to buy. There are two ways to ask questions: open-ended questions and closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions allow you to quickly uncover useful information. Open-ended questions begin with who, what, where, when, why or how. Think, “Who are you buying this gift for?” or “Which colors are you leaning towards?”
Close-ended questions can only be answered “yes” or “no”. They are helpful with talkative customers and with those who give you long but non-useable answers. Closed-ended questions always begin with a verb, like will, are, is, did or didn’t. Think: “Is this gift for a child?” or “Does this child enjoy puzzles?” Just remember, whoever asks the questions, controls the conversation. Once you discover what the customer is looking for you can get to work.
9. Demonstrate how the product can be used or how it works. Obviously, it’s easy to demonstrate how a sewing machine or lawn mower works, but there are show and tell opportunities with all sorts of items. Drape apparel or fabric, demonstrate items the customer may not be familiar with, show what’s in a kit – be creative because this is where you get to show off your product knowledge. And by the way, if you are unfamiliar with all the products in the store, take a moment each day to read labels, and instructions on products you have not personally tried before.
10. Remember to suggest additional products. Have you ever been to a fast food restaurant where they didn’t ask if you wanted fries with your sandwich? Nope. Because that never happens. Fast food retailers know that the easiest way to increase the bottom line is to have associates suggest additional items. It’s so ingrained that every associate does it, every time. Associates working in your store should do it, too.
Customers won’t buy additional items if they aren’t asked. Sometimes those add-on items are a necessity, like batteries or components needed to complete a project. Why wait for the customer to return home without everything she needs only to return angry because she had to come back again? Don’t think of add-on selling as pushy, think of it as a positive way of helping the customer and suggest away.
Try our “Gimme 5” exercise: Randomly hold up an item and ask your associates to name five additional items that could be added-on to the sale. Practice until adding-on becomes a natural part of the sales process.
11. Don’t forget to build a relationship. Before the customer leaves the store think about one more thing you can do to keep her close. Invite her to sign up for your email blasts, watch your Facebook Live broadcasts, join your private Facebook Group, or hang out with you on social media. If you happen to capture the customer’s address, send her a handwritten card thanking her for choosing your store. It’s the little things that draw customers close to your store, and it’s the little things they share with their friends about your store.
12. Celebrate the victories. The pandemic has changed our everyday lives so much that we all need a victory, even little ones.
Toast the end of a long week by recognizing associates for a job well done. For something above and beyond what is expected – big sale, letter, or mention in a customer review, putting out all the new product in record time – you’re your appreciation in front of their peers, maybe with a gift card from the store. Go bigger with a gift card to a favorite restaurant, a pretty bouquet of flowers or a tin of chocolate chip cookies. In the end it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you do something.
The pandemic has brought added stress to our lives, and for many retailers it has affected how we do business. Things will change as more and more people get vaccinated, but until then, do what you can to provide customers with over the top service, and move your sales in the right direction. Fingers crossed; we can only go up from here!