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Audit your standards of customer service

So much is said in retailing about customer service but not enough is actually done about it. The goal of every retailer should be to deliver truly outstanding customer service but management in most stores – even the major chains, have no idea about the level of service they're providing to their customers.

Customers will only come back to a retail outlet if they get good service. To put it another way, poor service is a guarantee you'll lose customers. Since it takes about five times as much effort to get a new customer as it does to retain one it's well worth the investment it takes to raise your standards of customer service to the highest possible level.

Giving outstanding customer service has real economic benefits for retailers. It means you don't have to discount heavily to attract new customers, nor will you have to spend a fortune on advertising.

You need to look closely at the level of customer service your retail establishment delivers. Don't look at it from your point of view but put yourself in the place of customers who don't know the location of every product in the store, who don't know all the details – colors, sizes, etc. of products you sell, and who don't know the sales team on a first name basis.

Remember too that customer service is about your whole store. It's about the people, the premises and the total impression that customers receive.

Your people

Start by taking a good look at your team members. Do they all have a real customer service focus? If a customer is ignored or treated with indifference, perhaps even rudeness, chances are you'll never hear about it. They'll just go away and never come back.

Finding the right people for your sales team is the best way to deliver outstanding customer service. It's up to you to select those with good people skills, and some just don't have them.

No matter how smart or polished a person is, if they can't instantly relate to your customers they should not be the interface between your store and the public.

There is a golden rule about customer service that never changes: The customer comes first. Remember that and make sure everybody on your sales team knows it. That really does mean 'first' - not after stocking a shelf or when the phone call's finished, but absolutely number one first.

Are customers recognized and offered assistance immediately? Do they have to come to a counter to get attention or do members of the sales team go out to them? Watch carefully and see what really happens. If customers aren't being treated like the valuable guests they are your sales will suffer.

Anyone on your sales team that won't accept this principle doesn't belong there. To some degree a less than perfect attitude can be corrected by training but it's far better to be selective at the time you're choosing sales team members than to try to correct a staffing mistake later.

It's worth paying a market research firm to conduct 'secret shopper' surveys and get an objective opinion on each key member of the sales team. The returns on this investment come back immediately.

Your premises

Next, look at the physical attributes of your premises. It's an important part of the customer experience and is another contributor to customer service.

Ask some people who are representative of your typical customers to take you through the store and make comments on everything they see that needs attention. Get their honest opinions of:

  • Store lighting
  • Displays
  • Merchandise selection
  • Store layout
  • Colors of walls, carpet, etc.
  • Appearance of sales personnel
  • Temperature of the premises
  • Location
  • Parking, toilet facilities

You may find that your store's appearance has become tired or dated. You may find the facilities aren't up to the standards of those offered by your competitors. It's certain you'll find something needs fixing that you weren't aware of because your customers notice a lot more than you do.

Your external contacts

How does your store perform from the outside? That means checking out your telephone service and your website, if you have one. Your opportunity to deliver outstanding customer service begins at the first point of contact between your store and a customer and that's often an electronic one.

Do you know how your team handles a customer's telephone call? They know your voice, naturally, but if you ask someone to call in with a simple inquiry about a product you stock you'll know how a typical customer is handled.

Ask three or four people to call your store and tell you about their experiences. You may find some telephone training is needed.

The same goes for that website you spent so much money on. Is it really customer-friendly? Does it look as good as the competition's? Does it work like it's supposed to? Don't try and judge for yourself but get others to take a look at it and get their opinions.

When you've seen how your people, your premises and your external contacts work to deliver customer service, ask yourself the big question: 'Is my customer service outstanding?'

Retailers that don't answer 'yes' to this question need to act immediately to fix whatever it is that's holding them back. If you can't answer 'yes' but your competitors can, where are your customers likely to go for their next shopping experience?

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Business Roadmap provides practical business advice for small to medium sized businesses that are trying to overcome problems, or are trying to achieve their vision and full potential. Visit the Business Roadmap website for further information.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to provide valuable, useful information, Blue Mountains Web Pty Ltd. (trading as Stralia Web), Business Roadmap Pty Ltd. and any related suppliers or associated companies accept no responsibility or any form of liability from reliance upon or use of its contents. Any suggestions should be considered carefully within your own particular circumstances, as they are intended as general information only.

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