Independent retailers who read the news on a regular basis can’t be faulted for feeling a bit frightened about the future. A quick glance at any retail industry website or newsletter full of headlines about “omnichannel” experiences, virtual reality, mobile apps and other technological advancements changing the face of retail, is enough to keep any retailer up at night. How can an independent retailer hope to compete against national or global chains?
In reality, it may be easier than you think to win over shoppers as long as you can deliver on the key factor that creates an exceptional customer experience: quickly responding to customer problems with knowledgeable assistance.
The Importance of Customer Response Time
The vast majority of customers in a CMO Council study conducted earlier this year cited rapid response times (52 percent) and helpful assistance (47 percent) as the most critical aspects of a positive customer experience. By comparison, fewer than 10 percent of the consumers who responded to the survey cared about elements such as “always-on assisted service,” branded social media communities to connect with other customers, or access to multiple touch points along the path to purchasing.
In other words, you don’t have to be a social media star or spend a ton on cutting-edge VR technology to keep retail customers happy. All you have to do is be there to help when the customer needs you — a principle that’s kept retailers in business since the days of the good old “general store.”
While delivering on customers’ basic service expectations sounds pretty simple, the cost of failing to do so can be devastating for a small retailer. Almost half of consumers will stop doing business with a company if they’re frustrated with the service. (They may not tell you why, either.) Given these risks, what can you do to ensure you’re providing timely, expert service?
There’s one simple secret: Devote time and effort to keeping your employees happy.
I regularly return to one independent clothing store near my home because of the amazing employees. (In fact, I go there so often it’s a little embarrassing.) Even if no one is around when I enter the store, employees materialize out of nowhere within seconds to greet me with genuine friendliness. The employees always know the current promotions and happily check in the back for different sizes or colors. They also display genuine enthusiasm for and knowledge of the apparel they sell — probably because they all wear it!
What’s the secret behind this store’s great service? The employees clearly enjoy what they’re doing. If your retail employees are less enthusiastic, how can you get them to that “happy place”? Try these moves:
- Hire people who are passionate about what you sell. There’s a reason the best electronics stores hire gear-heads, music equipment retailers hire musicians, and pet stores hire animal lovers. When your salespeople are also your target market, they’ll naturally connect with your customers. (Next time you’re looking to hire, why not reach out to some of your best customers?)
- Give employees a significant discount on your merchandise. At the store I mentioned, workers get a 40 percent discount, which makes the clothing affordable for them. When your salespeople actually own the products you carry, they’ll be familiar with them and better able to answer customer questions.
- Treat your employees well. Good pay, flexible scheduling and employee benefits aren’t a given at retail jobs, so if you offer these advantages, you’ll have an edge on the competition.
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