‘We are at our best when we deliver enriching experiences.’ – Apple credo
There is no better time than now to be a retail customer. There is so much choice. It is easy to shop internationally and take advantage of the strong Australian dollar, no GST and low cost shipping. Using technology, consumers are able to globally source, price and purchase products from the comfort of their living room, or the showroom of an unsuspecting retailer via their phone.
Retailers need to get smarter about how they connect with and appeal to their desired customers. The old adage ‘the customer is king’ is truer now than ever but rather than signalling the death of retail this creates space and opportunity for retailers to niche their offer and provide value for their customers that goes deeper than the product itself.
To learn how to steer your success as a team leader, the ARA Retail Institute runs multiple workshops on leadership and team culture. Join the ARA Retail Institute in their latest workshop on conducting post-trade analyses.
Align customer service strategies with brand policy
The underlying aim of all retail operations is to be profitable into the future. This aim must be clear and out in the open.
Retailers that only focus upon the customer are risking long-term business sustainability. Strategies that focus solely upon growing market share may find profitability is diminished.
Successful retailers balance their activities around attracting and retaining the ‘right’ customer. The ‘right’ customer differs from brand to brand. Consistently though, they are the ones that have the desire, the intention and the capacity to buy now and into the future, the customers that can find a connection between their values and the values of the brand. A small yet loyal share of this kind of customer from a large market can be far more viable from a retail perspective than a larger transient share.
Many successful retailers today are choosing niche over mass and deepening the connection between them and their customer base through customer service strategies.
All retailers can benefit from ensuring their customer service strategies are aligned with their brand.
The size, amount and scope of stores are not important. Every store has a feel. It’s a combination of location, exposure and signage, store design and layout, visual merchandising, staff appearance and service attitude, product selection, price and quality etc. Together they form a picture in the customer’s mind, and contribute to their experience of the store.
It is interesting to understand that this picture, this experience lives inside the customer. Retailers may have grand intentions as to the customer experience, but unless they take the steps to ensure that all elements of the customer experience relate the same message the customer will come out with an experience that is different to that intended by the business.
Put simply retailers can say one thing about service and customers can experience another if the effort has not gone into aligning brand with sales and service.
How can retailers ensure this alignment exists?
By getting clear on the following:
- The company mission and vision i.e. why are we in business?
- The kind of product and style of service offered
- The kind of customer targeted i.e. demographics, lifestyle, shopping habits
Once retailers know what they stand for and how they wish to be perceived this information can be applied to customer touch points.
Customer Touch points
It used to be said that a sale begins when the salesperson approaches the customer. In reality it begins much earlier than that, it begins the first time the potential customer experiences your brand. It could be a picture in a magazine, a pair of trainers on a stranger, a recommendation from a friend.
A customer touch point is a way in which existing and potential future customers experience your brand. They include:
- Website design and functionality
- Social media, which platforms and how they’re used
- Marketing and advertising i.e. TV, print, billboards, online, email etc.
- Physical store locations, design, layout, visual merchandising, ambience etc.
- Product selection, availability and pricing
- Staff, appearance, quantity and quality
- Service style across face-to-face, phone, email and social media interactions
- Customer events, sales and loyalty programs
There is a lot to consider and fortunately there are many examples of retailers that are doing this well. Simply consider the brands you prefer to buy from when given a choice and look at how they manage their customer touch points. The message must be consistent and reflective of the desired brand message.
Tiffany & Co, this topic’s case study is a strong example of touch point consistency. From store experience, to website, to magazine spreads to customer events the message is the same. Beauty, quality, luxury, romance…
How staff approach, interact with, learn about and introduce their product to customers is a strong part of sales and service in the world of luxury retail. Increasingly it is becoming part of all retail as the idea of great service returns to centre stage.
Salespeople are essential to both the process of sales and service and essential to retail success. The transactional style of service so popular in the 80’s and 90’s focused upon making the most of a quick sale. The McDonalds example ‘would you like fries with that,’ regardless of what the customer was ordering is a great example of trying to maximise each sale sometimes at the expense of long term customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Nowadays retailers realise the need for sales staff to both make a sale and provide a level of service that contributes to the development of a relationship with that customer which in turn inspires them to come back.
Developing effective customer service staff
The final element of aligning customer service strategies with brand policy is the selection and development of sales staff.
They are the ones charged with bringing the customer service strategy to the customer. They are the tangible face of the brand and the personal connection to the customer. Top retail salespeople have several characteristics in common:
- A Positive Attitude
Positivity toward the customer, toward the brand and the product mix, toward working hard, toward being part of a team
‘Smile, you’re designed to’ FAB.com credo
In their ability to perform and provide great service consistently, in their role as an ambassador for the brand
About merchandise, brand history and stories, competitors and customers
- Commitment to the Customer
Understanding that the primary role of great sales staff is to find out what the customer wants and needs to better their experience of life and do everything possible to provide it for them
The willingness and enthusiasm to do whatever is necessary to support the customer and the business
The ability to make rapid decisions and take action to tailor each customer interaction
- A Drive for Improvement
A desire to perform consistently under pressure and to thrive on constant change and challenge
About ARA Retail Institute
ARA Retail Institute is Australia’s leading retail training provider for both accredited and non-accredited learning programs. For more information, please visit: www.retailinstitute.org.au