Service trumps price, even in tough economic times, according to many retail experts. Independent retailers often have the edge when it comes to delivering top notch personal service. Because they are a part of the neighborhood and know their clientele, independent store owners can make service truly personal by tailoring special services to customers who will appreciate them. Gift wrapping is one example. Home delivery is another. So are special orders, and informing customers when something arrives that may interest them.
Mistakes happen at every store. The independent, however, free from corporate rules, can recover from blunders, and often turn a customer mishap into a positive experience that actually improves loyalty. People remember kindnesses, apologies and the personal touch. They also tell friends and neighbors about them. Following are five tips for improving and protecting your reputation for great customer service:
1) Empower your staff, especially salespeople. When a customer with a question or complaint is told, “That’s not my department,” it frustrates and elicits anger. Everything that happens to a customer, good or bad, is your responsibility. Make sure the employees feel that way, too. Make sure they have the knowledge and the confidence to correct problems on the spot, whether it’s in their job description or not.
2) Adapt to the customer. If you’ve ever had a sales rep rattle off a script in response to your question or concern, you know how important it is to have your questions answered in straightforward language. Respond directly to the issue at hand, and do not take this interaction as an opportunity to upsell. No one should try to sell something to a customer who is already seeing red. Any attempt will backfire.
3) Differentiate between right and correct. Be flexible. Sometimes customers buy the wrong size, even on a garment that is on sale and cannot be returned. At other times, they purchase something that, on second thought, doesn’t fit with their décor. Technically, they are responsible for the purchase. But having to keep it, right or wrong, leaves a bad taste in their mouth that they associate with the store. Here is where customer consideration and taking the time to understand each unique situation can turn a good retailer into a great one. If there is some way to make an exception for this customer, the store will gain loyalty.
4) Pay attention to consumption. If a customer is not consuming a product they bought, or not using a service they paid for, that customer will regret the purchase and possibly feel they wasted money with you. Keep track of what they are using, and follow up by phone if they are not utilizing what they bought. They will appreciate your interest in them, even if you can’t offer a refund or exchange.
5) Be radically transparent. When selling something that is complicated to use or relies on technology that may not be known to everyone, ask if you can help. Show them how it works. Alert them to any anticipated problems, and do it all in plain language. Cut the jargon. Don’t try to sound smart, and meet people where they are, no matter how simple you find the product or technology. You might just save a sale, or better yet, gain even more sales.
6) Commit to customer centered sales habits. Embrace an authentic sales style that doesn’t crunch customers’ credit or force them to go beyond their buying limits. Shortsighted sales strategies or profit quotas will never replace building the trust that shows your true commitment to customers.
Information in this article was edited from a story on Entrepreneur.com.