Brick and Mortar: Cementing Customer Satisfaction

Brick and Mortar: Cementing Customer Satisfaction

Whether in a shopping mall or a stand-alone brick and mortar store, customers still cherish the ability to touch and feel merchandise they plan to purchase. In face to face interactions with customers, employees must not only sound accommodating (as in phone orders), they have to look sincere, dress appropriately and be responsive to customer visual cues.

Statistics indicate that profits skyrocket 25-125 percent just by retaining 5 percent more customers. With that in mind, it's no wonder that loyalty programs and customer care are becoming big business. These strategies generate repeat business and more referrals, and render marketing efforts more efficient and effective.

Here are some classic methods to establish and meet customer expectations:

  • Treat the customer as a valued friend.
  • Establish a relationship based on respect and individual needs.
  • Showcase products and simplify the purchasing process.
  • Make it easy to finance purchases through cash, credit or layaway.
  • Honor commitments for delivery and condition of merchandise.
  • Seek out dissatisfied customers and commit to improving their experience.
  • Provide follow-up for customer satisfaction.
  • Hire smart people and train them well.
  • Reward employees with financial incentives, developing strong partnerships and focusing on the long term.
  • Develop methods to reduce costs and add value for customers in every transaction.
  • Cultivate a fun and friendly workplace.

Guarantees and Warranties: Get It in Writing

Although happy employees, an attractive environment and high quality inventory certainly make for satisfied customers, putting the terms of sale on paper can keep things friendly - even when problems arise.

A guarantee or warranty is a promise or assurance that something is of specified quality, content and benefit, or that it will perform satisfactorily for a given length of time. Before statutory law, the buyer had no warranty on the quality of goods. Caveat emptor or "Buyer Beware" was the rule. Now, the law requires that goods must be of "merchantable quality."

Warranty can be difficult to enforce and may not apply to all products. Product warranty or guarantee, like a refund policy, act as an assurance that the business honors its commitment to its customers for quality products.

When developing a store guarantee program, think about the following:

  • Most store guarantees are driven by the manufacturer's guarantee.
  • In-store guarantees should match manufacturer specifications (if applicable).
  • Guarantees are legal statements and should be developed through an attorney.
  • Force majeure is a legal term defining limited liability, such as an "Act of God" or other circumstance that voids the guarantee.

Happy Customers Start with the System

Successful store owners will point out that exceptional customer service starts at the very heart of the system - and begins long before the first shopper walks through the door. While the process involves training time, good marketing strategies and a keen eye for what works - and doesn't - the payoff can be a healthy bottom line. The following sections offer practical advice from leading retail professionals.

  • Establish a cost-effective, value-added product/service menu:
    • Train employees to up-sell other products/services.
    • Provide product assembly service.
    • Offer extended warranties.
    • Suggest compatible items (e.g. headphones for a sound system).
    • Offer discounts for multiple product purchases.
    • Draw customers through special discounts (e.g. Senior Citizen Day, store credit cards, etc.).
  • Train staff to be proactive employees. Teach them to:
    • Thoroughly know the products and services in order to most effectively help the customer.
    • Be obviously friendly, confident and quick to build rapport.
    • Give the customer a choice.
    • Suggest additional offerings - "By the way, are you aware of"
    • Exceed the customer's expectations.
    • Ask intelligent follow-up questions.
  • Set up a Quality Assurance structure;
    • Although QA structures most closely align with manufacturing processes, much can be done in the retail environment to improve the quality of goods and services.
    • Invest in software such as which captures details about customers for tracking customer demographics and revenue/expense generation activities.
    • Utilize CRM as a feedback mechanism for customer complaints.
    • On a non-technology level, organize product displays to reduce damage and theft
    • Employ "secret shoppers" to evaluate staff performance.
  • Establish a convenient invoicing system for customers;
    • In addition to cash, checks, national credit cards, in-store credit cards, phone and online payments, as well as the opportunity to place merchandise on layaway, a business needs clear guidelines for establishing and validating forms of payment. In addition, well established practices to verify customer credit-worthiness must be in place before allowing extension of credit -- all strategies which contribute to overall satisfaction.
  • Here are more tips to keep accounts receivable current while pleasing the customer:
    • Offer an incentive for paying early.
    • Give a disincentive for paying late.
    • Be persistent.
    • For worst cases - negotiate - offer to reduce the amount owed in exchange for immediate payment.
    • Sell the debt to a company that buys accounts receivable - a transaction that frequently includes a steep discount.
    • If all else fails, sometimes a lawsuit is the only option, although this should be a last resort.
  • Embrace customer complaints with a thank you;
    • Quickly addressing customer complaints can help a business grow and prosper, while ignoring issues can result in revenue loss or even litigation. A strong, successful plan to address customer issues incorporates technology, employee training and constant vigilance to follow up on problem resolution.
    • Listen to the complaint and correct the problem even if it means a loss of profit - if the complaint leads to corrective action in the way customers are served, profits will increase in the future.
    • Software tools to manage complaints provide a centralized platform for receiving complaints and storing documentation. A single, cohesive system helps to formulate a strategy for resolution.
    • Since it is sometimes difficult to determine if a complaint is valid or not, a business may defer to the customer the first time - tracking software can identify if a customer is a repeat complainer.
    • Train front-line staff to handle complaint resolution actions. Allow staff decision-making flexibility. Develop escalation procedures through company channels.
    • Customer feedback is important to make improvements and indicates concern for customer opinions. Feedback/comment forms should be readily available - some companies offer rewards to encourage suggestions.

Improve Customer Relations through Solid Employee Policies

As part of a new hire orientation, employees should receive a handbook spelling out the values and standards of the company. Most companies consider policy violations seriously, and repeated violations could subject the employee to termination.

Retail stores present a visual aspect of a customer/staff interaction not present in the online or telephone relationship. How the employee is dressed, as well as attitude and body language, all affect the customer's perspective of the company.

An employee's clothing and attitude in particular send signals that reflect personal or cultural identity, or even an effect adverse to the retail environment. To maintain a consistent signal that reflects the company's image, explicit company policies for employees should be:

  • Professionally developed
  • Legally reviewed
  • Consistent
  • Non-ambiguous

Create a To-the-Point Product Return Policy

In a retail store, refund policies should be posted at the cash register to disclose return requirements at the point of purchase.

Stipulations to include in a brick and mortar refund policy are similar to their electronic counterparts:

  • Receipts, tags, or packaging
  • Credit slips, with or without time limits
  • Return time constraints
  • Shipping cost options

As a nod to customer service that's a cut above the competitors, think about:

  • Accepting returns at any location (in the case of multiple stores)
  • A no-questions-asked return policy
  • Discounts for future purchases
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