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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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"Listen To Your Customers, They're Smarter Than You"

Savvy, inexpensive ways to improve your customer service.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (September 19, 2011)

Knowing whatís going on in the world of retail is critical to the growth of your business --  it is to ours as well.That's why we spend time each year doing our own consumer research. Our goal is to uncover what's going on out there, and translate it into strategies you can use on your own sales floor. And because we work in so many different industries, we're able to provide you with a broader picture of what customers look for in a shopping experience.

But it isn't always easy.

For example, take the focus group we did with a group of Baby Boomer women. Our first question was an easy one, or so we thought. We asked the group to tell us about their recent customer service experiences:

"Are there places where real people still answer the telephone? I hate having to listen to some cheerful, robotic voice offer me 300 options that I have to listen to in their entirety because if I try and jump ahead, I just get sent back to the beginning."

"Why do I have to stay home all day to wait for a delivery man who might show up at 10 am or 4:30 pm? Why canít the store give me an approximate time, so I donít have to waste the entire day?"

"I don't think anyone really listens when I offer a suggestion. Some stores have suggestion boxes and they ask customers for their opinion, but I never see them actually do anything that I suggest.:

If we had a nickel for every time we heard a customer say one of those things we'd be richer than Bill Gates by now. Do focus groups exaggerate? Sometimes. But there's always a trail to follow if you listen carefully and then piece together what they tell you.

A successful retailer once told us, "Listen to your customers because they're smarter than you." He also pointed out that the letters that form the word LISTEN also spell SILENT; you canít listen to a customer if your mouth is open.

So we listen and we recommend that you listen, too. In a world of social networking, it's dangerous to think you have all the answers. What if you're -- GASP! -- wrong? Here are some ideas to help you zero in on what your customers think:

1. Focus Groups. Invite 15 customers to participate in your focus group, but set the room for 8-10. Itís always better to have to bring in extra chairs than to have empty seats; it makes your meeting seem even more important. You can hold your focus group in your store or off-site. Either way, you will need someone to mediate because it will be hard for you to be objective if someone says something less than stellar about your store. Serve refreshments and have a list of questions ready to keep the conversation moving. You will need to each person a gift of value for participating. We generally give $50 in cash (you could substitute a store gift card), plus a jar candle valued at around $20.

2. Customer Advisory Board. Similar to a corporate board of directors, your Customer Advisory Board will meet with you once a quarter to discuss the things you've done in your store, and your future plans. For best results, choose people from different generations.

3. Exit Interviews. Station yourself near the front door. When a customer is about to leave, politely stop her and ask if she found everything she was looking for. Exit interviews are great for identifying products customers wish you carried; and you'll be able to save the sale when customers find out you do carry whatever they came in to purchase, but couldn't find.

4. Customer Comment Cards. Place "Tell Us What You Think!" cards on your cash wrap, in classrooms, and on your web site for customers to complete. These are great for time-starved customers who have something to say, but are short on time to stop and talk.

5. Associate Feedback. Ask store associates to fill you in on what they're hearing from customers on the sales floor. Place a notebook in the lunchroom or at the cash wrap so they can easily jot down customer comments. You can discuss these comments in detail during store meetings.

6. The BIG Question. You'll get extremely useful information when you ask customers our BIG Question: "What ONE thing could we do to ___________?" You fill in the blank.

"What ONE thing could we do to improve our customer service?" or "What ONE service could we add to make it more convenient to shop here?" or "What ONE class or event could we add that you would like to attend?"

The customer has to put thought into her answer, so you'll hear constructive things you'll be able to easily implement. Don't be surprised if many shoppers tell you a variation on the same theme -- thatís a good thing! If it's positive, then you have one more thing to brag about, and if it's negative, then you know just what to fix.

These simple tools will help you uncover a great many things to help you grow your business, but you're likely to hear things you didn't want to hear as well. Your responsibility after asking customers for their input is to make sure you let them know what you plan to do with what they told you. When you implement their suggestions, and especially when you can't, let them know. Post your responses on a "customer interaction" bulletin board in your store, in your newsletter, on your web site, and on your Facebook and other social media pages.

Keep Your Eyes Wide Open.

Every retailer has some wonderful new line of product that just isn't selling. Set aside time to observe how customers interact with it. Perhaps your associates aren't familiar enough with the product to properly recommend it, or perhaps customers are interested, but have no idea what to do with it. Or maybe it's merchandised in the wrong area. You wonít know these things until you watch what customers do -- and don't do -- inside your store. Try these easy observation methods.

Fly On The Wall Exercise. The idea is to blend in and become just another shopper. Tell associates what youíre doing and to pretend you're not there. They can only blow your cover in a genuine emergency.

Dress the same way your customers typically dress. If it's 90 degrees outside and everyone is wearing shorts and T-shirts, you need to be in shorts and a T-shirt, too. If it's below zero and shoppers are decked out in heavy coats, put yours on as well. If you don't do this, you'll stick out and people will wonder what you're up to.

Carry a notebook to record what you see. You may even want to use a small voice recorder or camcorder. We use a Flipô MinoHD.

Station yourself in a prime shopping spot on the sales floor and just watch. Observe how shoppers interact with displays, merchandise, and your associates. Associates will forget you are there, too, so you may catch them doing things you wish you hadn't, like cutting corners or ignoring customers.

Move to different locations throughout the store and write the important things you observe in your notebook so you can address changes you'd like to make later on.

Listen, Watch, and React.

Listen to your customers. Ask for their opinions. Watch what they do in your store and make changes according to what you find. React by giving them a unique in-store experience they can only get from you. As a result of all of your hard work and research you'l be able to create a unique in-store experience and a comfortable place where they can dream, be entertained, get lost for a little while, and look forward to their next visit.

Let other stores ignore what their customers think. Not you. The relationship you have with your customers is like any other relationship; it' based on trust, coupled with your ability to interpret, meet, and even exceed, their changing needs. Knowing your customers, and what they want, will keep your merchandise fresh, your promotions fun, and your sales floor crackling with excitement!

xxx

KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

Keynotes | Seminars | Consulting | Store Design

103 North 11th Ave., Ste. 206, St. Charles, Illinois 60174
Phone: 630-513-8020 | 24/7 Mobile: 708-347-2682 Fax: 630-513-8098
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COPYRIGHT KIZER & BENDER 2009. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 xxx

 

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