How often have you entered a store. . .
- And observed two clerks continue to chat instead of turning to smile at you?
- To find that the order you called in the day before is not at the counter, ready for your quick pick-up and payment, because the clerk said she “got busy with other customers?”
- And asked the clerk a question about a product and get an “I don’t know” response, with no offer to find out?
These situations describe Americans’ top three in-store pet peeves according to a multi-client Gallup Poll taken in January.
In a stressful economic time, coddle customers to keep them. In fact, give them bragging rights about “my store” so they come back and tell others.
Next to value-priced quality products, a motivated staff is the most cost-effective way to stand out from the competition while avoiding costly price wars. So many no-cost and low-cost staff behaviors can make all the difference in how a customer feels about your store. The devil is in the specifics because even the most well-intentioned staffer may unwittingly slight someone.
As customer service expert, Holly Stuhl is fond of saying, “You never get bitten by an elephant. It’s the mosquitoes that eat you alive.”
Just as a cultural group has commonly recognized rules of etiquette, your store staff can agree on the specific behaviors that constitute “good store manners” – with each other and with customers.
If everyone in your store agrees to propose and abide by specific “Rules of Conduct,” (ROC) then each staffer knows what is expected and can feel it is appropriate to speak up when a co-worker, including the owner or manager, is not abiding by them or is demonstrating outstanding customer service, according to their “ROC.”
For a brainstorming session with your staff to agree on your outlet’s “Rules of Conduct” here’s some suggestions to jumpstart the discussion:
1. “Welcoming Smile”
Smile at each customer immediately as she enters the door. Their instinct will be to smile back. Safeway asked their clerks to smile at customers and some staff accused the company of trying to “enforce friendliness.” Some women on staff even said that smiling encouraged some male customers to flirt with them.
Hopefully your staff feels comfortable in their ability to smile as a gracious gesture of welcome.
2. “Agree on Your Greeting”
Rather than leave greeting to chance, consider various phrases you think are fitting for your kind of store and market area. Compare notes on what feels comfortable to say to demonstrate that you are willing to help if they need it.
There is a fine line between greeting and overwhelming customers. Avoid opening phrases that don’t recognize their purpose in visiting the store, such commenting on the weather.
3. “Sunshine Over the Phone”
The four most frequent complaints Americans have about talking clerks with whom they speak by phone are that they:
- Speak too fast
- Do not enunciate clearly
- Do not sound like they care
- Do not propose ways to solve a problem but simply answer the questions they are asked.
Agree on the exact greeting and tone of voice for answering your store phone. Some people on staff may resist spending time on a seemingly obvious and small detail, but, like the first face customers see upon entering a store, the “faceless” voice over the phone is the “stain” or “sparkle” of first impression.
For example, you may simply agree to say warmly and clearly, without speed talking,(“name of store”) (your name) speaking. How may I help you?” Ask each staff person to practice saying your agreed upon phone greetings and give candid feedback to each other about clarity, warm, loudness, tone and rate.
In a chain of Italian clothing stores, clerks are asked to listen to audiotapes of melodic, rich male and female voices, saying the greetings that the store owner believes most represents the signature style of the store.
Practice with each other until you are proud of what you hear.
4. “No Matter What”
No matter what else you are doing, from re-stocking a shelf to talking with another customer, pause to smile at the new customer entering the store to acknowledge their presence. It only takes a moment.
If you are with a customer when a new customer enters the store, still take a moment to smile and greet that new customer, perhaps saying “Hello. I’d be glad to help you right after we’re done here.”
Research shows that people are more willing to wait for service if they feel that the moment they can see the clerk, the clerk makes direct eye contact and acknowledges their presence by a smile, nod and some greeting.
5. “Serve the Line”
Serve people in the order that they have asked for service. If one customer interrupts you while you are serving another customer, be especially warm as you turn to the “interrupter” and say something like, “I look forward to helping you right after I’m finished assisting this customer. Thank you.”
6. “Advance Orders”
Actively encourage your customers to place advance orders by phone, fax or e-mail, indicating what is adequate time for you to prepare the order in advance of their coming in.
Even if people walk into the store as you are preparing that order, greet the newcomers and explain that you are completing a prior order.
Tell them how long it will take and ask for their patience, because you will be with them next.
7. “Their Go-to Expert on That Situation”
Become your customers’ top-of-mind subject matter expert. When people come into browse, ask if they would like some suggestions for their particular situation. If they would like such assistance, ask sufficient questions so that you know something about the budget, the customer’s feelings and needs for the situation and what kind of similar products they or their friends have used and liked in the past.
Understanding the big picture of how the customer sees their situation helps you advise them more specifically and thoughtfully.
8. “Specific Sampling Scripts”
Invite customers to participate, to offer advice and to learn.
Every action someone takes on behalf of a prospective sale moves him closer to buying. Set a standard of always having something to sample, ask about, offer suggestions for or otherwise take action on.
For example, a gourmet store might offer samplings. Set the food to be sampled on a counter near a staffer. That way the staff person can offer samples and engage in conversation, perhaps asking a question or making an offer. A sports equipment store might have a demo area.
Asking for advice starts a dialogue where the focus is on the product not on someone trying to get another person to buy. That gourmet store staffer might ask:
- (While holding a platter of sausage slices with toothpicks and three bowls of various flavored mustards): Would you mind telling me which mustard you think goes best with our new smoked chicken and apple sausages?”
- “Do you think this cheese is soft enough to serve on the kind of crackers you use?”
- (Holding a platter with three bowls of slices of different kinds of cookies, with stand up cards in front of each with the names of the cookies on them): Want to guess which one of these cookies is our best seller?”
9. “Would You like French Fries With That?”
Just as McDonalds instructs their staff to suggest additional food items, such as drinks or fries with each order, you can establish a low-key and helpful standard for making suggestions of products that would go with each other for a meal, a gift or other special situation.
If in-store displays involve a combination of products for a timely occasion, staff will find it easier to refer to product combinations to buy as a bundle.
10. “Cross-Sell to Stand Out and to Sell More”
Let customers literally see a situation in which they’d enjoy using several of your products, as a natural extension of their lifestyle – or the life to which they now want to become accustomed. Stage a scene on a table or shelves or in the window. Sometimes include products from a partner’s store to complete the picture of that situation.
In short, encourage more spending in your store by reducing the number of boring or irritating steps to do so and increasing the number of positive in-store moments and reasons to buy.
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About the Author: Kare Anderson is an Emmy-winning former Wall Street Journal reporter and speaker/strategist on collaboration, partnering and quotability, Kare Anderson writes two blogs, Moving From Me to We  and Say it Better .