And here’s the good news: when it comes to customer service, you’re in the driver’s seat.
You may not be able to influence the weather or control your competitors, but the level of service you provide is completely within your control. That’s why you should always be cooking up ways to wow your shoppers.
Now, I understand that this advice can be vague. (What exactly do I mean by “improving the customer service”?). So, to help your concertize the concept, I’ve put together a handful of real-life examples and action steps for taking your retail customer service to the next level.
1. The store owner who remembers — and appreciates — repeat customers
Make surprise and delight key components of your customer service and retention strategies. Repeat customers are the best types of shoppers to have and they’re very appreciative of retailers who remember them.
So, make it a point to let your frequent customers know that you’re grateful for their purchases.
One of my favorite examples of this in action comes from T-We Tea, a tea shop in San Francisco. I’ve purchased from them a number of times, and with my previous order, I found a sweet note that read, “OMG, Hi Francesca! So lovely to see your name come up! We miss you dearly up here but know you are always doing epic things!”
It was a lovely gesture and it’s certainly not something I get from other retailers (even the ones I shop with regularly). Because of this, T-We Tea will always be one of my go-to places for loose leaf tea.
Take note of your repeat customers – Use a good CRM that lets you record customer details — i.e. contact info, purchase history, and birthday, among other things.
Put that info to good use – Once you have their information, be sure to use customer data to serve shoppers better. For instance, if you see an order from someone who’s already in your database, acknowledge them for the repeat purchase then send a sincere note of gratitude.
2. The retailer who makes an effort to upsell and educate customers
Think upselling is sleazy or bad for customer service? Not if you do it right. If you take the time to educate customers before they purchase and tailor your recommendations to their needs, I guarantee that the shopper will leave happy.
Case in point: a while back, I took my toddler shopping at our local shoe store for kids. We encountered a great associate who helped him select and try on different pairs of shoes.
The associate then came up to me and said, “I noticed your son’s feet were a bit sweaty. What types of socks is he using?”
I told him we just used standard cotton socks.
“Cotton isn’t ideal for sweaty feet,” he replied. Do you want me to show you some of the socks we have that can help?”
He proceeded to tell me about the various types of socks they carried, the materials they were made out of, and which ones would work best for my son. I ended up buying a couple of pairs, and I was thrilled with my purchase because it did wonders for my son’s feet.
Train your associates to upsell and cross-sell – Start by encouraging them to pay attention to each customer and determine any potential needs or wants they may have.
In the example above, the associate took note of the fact that my son had sweaty feet, and then made the right call by recommending the right type of socks for him.
Make sure they educate shoppers – Upselling or cross-selling shouldn’t just be about pushing products. See to it that shoppers know the benefits of the products you’re pitching and why they should buy it.
3. The retailer who finds a way around stockouts
While the best way to deal with out-of-stocks is to avoid them altogether, you can turn an unpleasant stockout situation into a positive one with the right customer service.
Here’s a cool example from Real Canadian Superstore. A customer decided to use the store’s click-and-collect service by ordering her groceries online and then opting to pick up her purchases at the store.
According to her Instagram post, some of the products she ordered were unavailable, so one of Superstore’s employees called her up and offered substitutes.
The whole experience was smooth and efficient, and the customer was so happy with Real Canadian Superstore’s service, that she raved about them on social media.
Have a backup plan for stock-outs – When a customer asks you about a product that’s unavailable, make sure you have a better response than “Sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.” Always be ready to recommend substitutes so you don’t miss out on the sale.
Offer to ship from your store/warehouse – You could also offer a service in which you order an item from another location or channel (i.e. your online store) then ship it the customer for free
4. The cashier who forges a local connection with shoppers
This particular example isn’t strictly about retail, but it’s still a great example of notable customer service.
I was purchasing a drink from a local cafe, and the cashier behind the counter noticed that I was holding a business card from a nearby eyebrow threading place. “Oh, you go there too? Aren’t they the best?” she said.
We then had a quick chat about why we love the business and our experiences it with. It was a brief encounter, but certainly a memorable one. I loved that the cashier established a connection by referencing something local that we both liked.
That effort didn’t take much, but it went a long way as far as customer service goes. Why? Because so few people do it. The majority of cashiers just ring up sales and spout impersonal lines like “How was everything?” or “Have a nice day.”
Don’t be one of them. Make the checkout process as pleasant as you can by making an effort to connect with the customer. Doing so could be just the thing that keeps you top of mind and gets them to come back.
Be on the lookout for commonalities – Find a way to connect with customers through things you have in common. Do you have similar tastes? Do you frequent the same local spots? Use those commonalities to start conversations.
You don’t always have to push a sale – In the example above, the cashier and I chatted as she was ringing me up at the counter. I was already a paying customer, but she still made an effort to connect with me. Strive to do something similar in your own store. Don’t just chat up a customer because you want to make money off of them. Do it to build a relationship.
Connecting with customers starts with how you greet them. If you need ideas on how to welcome shoppers in our store, this post offers 20+ examples of retail store greetings you’d want to try.
5. The sales employee who takes the time to find the perfect fit
Earlier this year, I swung by the Sunglass Hut location in SoHo, as I needed a new pair of sunglasses. The associate manning the store was super friendly and offered to help after noticing that I was unsure of what to buy.
She took the time to find out what I needed and what my preferences were, and then she walked me through the different brands they had. She then hand-picked pairs of sunglasses that best fit the shape of my head, and even brought out an eyewear tray so we could easily compare different products.
It was a great experience and I appreciated the employee’s sincere effort.
Work *with* shoppers to find the right product – Exert more effort to help your customers in need. This could mean different things, depending on your store. For example, you could accompany a shopper to the shelf where an item is located instead of just saying “It’s in Aisle 4.” Or, like the associate above, you could bring out different products to help the shopper compare items.
But be sure to read your customers appropriately – To be clear, not every customer needs an associate to show them around the store. Some shoppers want to be left alone, in which case you shouldn’t bother them. But for those customers who do need assistance, do your very best to help them find what they need.
6. The associate who puts her product knowledge to good use
Product knowledge is an essential component of customer service, so you and your staff must be on top of your merchandise and catalog details at all times. This comes in handy when you’re:
- Talking about your bestsellers
- Discussing the features and benefits of various items
- Teaching shoppers how to use a product
Here’s an example that shows an associate doing all three of these things: I was shopping around for dry shampoo, and I decided to take my search offline. As someone who’s never used dry shampoo before, I didn’t want to rely on online product descriptions or reviews; I wanted to touch, feel, and maybe even test products in person.
I decided to visit the Birchbox store in SoHo to see what they had to offer. Birchbox had a great selection, but ultimately, it was the store’s customer service that made my experience stand out.
The associate I worked with was knowledgeable and helpful; she told me which brands she liked best, what their top-sellers were, and she explained the distinctions between different products.
Then when she learned that I’ve never tried dry shampoo before, she recommended I purchase a travel size bottle instead of pushing me to buy a full sized product. She even showed me how to apply the product to my hair. I walked out of that Birchbox store with a product that I was excited to try, and I was reminded of just how powerful in-store customer service can be.
Use the “FAB” formula – The “FAB” formula, which stands for “Features, Advantages, and Benefits” helps you and your associates easily remember what each product is all about.
Basically, features are the components or characteristics of a product while its advantages pertain to what the features can do. The benefit, which is the most important part, is what the customer can get out of the product and its features. For best results, see to it that the benefit you pitch to the shopper is unique to them.
For instance, let’s say you’re selling a pair of sunglasses. Features could include the frame size, the material that it’s made out of, or the fact that it’s polarized. The advantages could be the durability of the pair as well as its ability to reduce the glare from certain surfaces. Finally, the benefit could the fact that it helps the customer see better.
Know your top-sellers – Get familiar with your product trends and bestsellers so you always have handy items to recommend. To make things easier, choose a retail management system that has robust product reporting capabilities. The best retail systems provide you with insights that you can incorporate into your sales, marketing, and customer service efforts.
7. The retailer offering a sincere apology
Things don’t always go your or your customer’s way, and it’s during times like these that your customer service is really put to test. While the “right” way to deal with unpleasant situations will depend on your circumstances, often you’ll fare a lot better if you apologize and try to compensate for what happened.
DSW offers a great example of the right way to deal with mishaps. According to Mikaela Kornowski, Marketing & PR Executive at OFFPRICE Show, “Lost packages, website glitches, and other unforeseen issues are always going to plague retailers, but excellent customer service in light of those mishaps will be rewarded with loyal shoppers.”
“DSW’s website crashed this fall, leaving many shoppers like myself stranded mid-checkout. The next day I received an apology in my inbox with a note letting me know their flash sale was extended because of the mishap. And guess what? I bought the shoes… and a few more pairs since then!”
Have an apology ready – Even if the situation isn’t necessarily your fault, saying sorry that a customer is having difficulties can go a long way.
Make it up to the customer – If there was an error on your end, do your best to own the mistake and make it up to the customer. Is there a way to reverse the error? Can you offer a discount instead?
Customer service is more than important ever. We’re doing business in an environment where consumers have more choices than ever before. How you treat them is a huge differentiating factor and it can turn indifferent shoppers into raving fans.
Bottom line: make customer service a priority at all times.