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