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Phone: 785-760-5071
Email: mike@clnonline.com


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

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You Had Us at "Hello"

Simple, common sense ways to improve customer service.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (March 2, 2009)

Customer service – or the lack of it – has been a hot topic as of late. Service providers believe they are giving the best customer care possible, but customers beg to differ. Customers aren't buying excuses; they do not see the "Yes, but we were short handed that day," or the "Yes, but we had to get the shipment out to be in stock for the weekend." They do not care about the "yes buts"; customers only care about what actually happened in the store. Consider this:

1. According to a recent poll conducted by America's Research Group, a consumer-behavior research firm, one in four shoppers said they walked out of a store because of poor customer service. (That's 25% of your customers!)

2. More than half (58%) of shoppers polled said they planned to avoid stores they perceive as understaffed.

3. According to a study conducted by the Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 48% of shoppers said they would not patronize stores where they know someone else had had a bad experience.

Today, it isn't just about the product you sell or the services and conveniences you offer, or even the fabulous in-store events you host; it's also about how well you care for your customers.

Customer service has been a hot topic in our consumer focus groups as well, so we decided to do an experiment of our own. We spent three hours at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois on a busy Saturday afternoon. Our plan was to purchase something in every store where we were greeted or acknowledged by a store associate. To be fair to our wallets, we did not count the shops that had a greeter stationed at the front door. And we did not have to be greeted within the first moments inside the store; any associate who approached us equaled a purchase.

We made just three purchases that day: one at Wilson's Leather and two at Nordstrom. Amazing, but true. In a perfect customer service world we would have run out of money before we ran out of stores.

During our time at Woodfield Mall we observed or were treated to the following: A) Associates who acknowledged customers with a brief glance in their direction. B) Associates who never looked at, nor spoke to, customers as they rang up their purchases; the majority of these associates never even thanked customers or invited them back to shop again. C) Associates who could only muster a "May-I-help-you?" in such as way that the customer knew they really didn't mean it. D) No greeting or acknowledgement at all.

We know this is not a fun topic, and we know that many of you reading this will be offended because you're certain this could never happen in your store. But can you really be so sure? We know you have personally experienced shoddy customer service in all kinds of establishments; is it so hard to imagine that it could happen right on your own sales floor?

We also know you probably cannot afford to hire enough associates to do all of the things you'd like to do in your store, so here's a three-step, no-cost plan to elevate your customer care:

1. Practice our 7-Tile Rule: Every single time any associate comes within seven floor tiles - that's seven feet - of a customer they MUST acknowledge them. That acknowledgement might only be a sincere smile, but trust us, that smile will work wonders. If you come across a customer five times, then she needs to be acknowledged five times.

2. It's better to respond to a customer than it is to react. A reaction is a throw away answer with no eye contact; a response requires eye contact, a smile, and a thoughtful answer to the customer's request. A reaction makes a customer feel like she is an interruption; a response will make that same customer feel like she's the most important person in the store.

3. Engage customers in conversation. Talk about trends, upcoming classes or events, product, even the weather. The goal is to break the ice and make customers feel at home in the store.

We all need to be more diligent about how we care for our customers; we need to reverse the trend from lip service to actual customer service. Consistently good customer service. We need to give our customers the number one spot on our "Things To Do Better" list. And we need to start right now.

(Note: Professional speakers, authors, and consultants, Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender are nationally recognized experts on customer diversity, marketing & promotion, and everything that affects and interacts with consumers in the retail environment. Each year Kizer & Bender speak to thousands through their "Retail Adventures in the REAL World™" keynotes and seminars. Their unique consumer insights are widely featured in the media, including the ABC National News special report, "How Stores Hook You." Their book, Champagne Strategies on a Beer Budget!, has helped thousands of retailers improve their bottom line, and their "Retail Adventures™" Blog is visited by tens of thousands of readers each month. In 2004 they were named two of the "Most Influential People in Retail Today," and their popular magazine column, "Georganne & Rich on the Road," won the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Award of Excellence in 2004 and again in 2006.)

You'll find thousands of strategies, tactics, tip and techniques to help you grow your business on their Retail Adventures™ blog: http://www.kizerandbender.blogspot.com. They mean it when they say to call if you want to talk about your store. They know how tough it is right now, and they're happy to brainstorm ideas with you – we want you to succeed!

Rich and Georganne Bender will be featured speakers at the 2nd annual Small Business Conference sponsored by Yarn Market News, Mar. 15-17 in Chicago. They will speak on the best ways to create a unique and appealing layout for a retail store. For info and to register, visit www.yarnmarketnews.com, call Jessica Cepek at 212-225-9011, or email jessica@yarnmarketnews.com.

(Note: To read previous articles by Rich and Georganne, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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