Loss Prevention and Customer Service: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Andrew WrenImproving customer satisfaction is a top priority for retailers across all areas of the business, according to the 2012 Retail TouchPoints Store Operations survey, Taking The Pulse Of Store Operations. Customers today have many options, and to keep them, retailers must create loyalty. While many retail organizations rely on their workforce, store optimization and brand relevant shopping experiences to deliver their best customer service, loss prevention, too, has an important role to play in impacting customer satisfaction. On the flip side, good customer service can contribute to loss prevention efforts in numerous ways. Technology continues to play a significant role in loss prevention efforts, and much of the technology aimed at reducing shrink and improving safety and security can be directed toward customer service efforts. Given retail’s broad adoption of video assets, many retailers are well positioned to double the impact of their investments.

When it comes to bolstering customer satisfaction, retailers should work, first and foremost, to ensure they are operating a clean, safe environment for shoppers. What customer wouldn’t be frustrated with impassable aisles, hard to reach products or cluttered dressing rooms? With video, interior and exterior areas of a store can be monitored to keep managers and employees aware of potential problems. Areas to monitor for “shopability” include, but are not limited to, activities in the parking lot or near the entrance of the store; customers having difficulty reaching or locating items; and fixtures, product packaging, procedures and technologies that may be interfering with the shopping or check-out experience.

Loss prevention assets can help ensure the security of vulnerable products while countering measures that might otherwise prevent a sale. Who has not had the experience of selecting a product and finding it difficult to interact with that product because of security or packaging? Either you have to talk to someone to have a secure case opened or the product is kept tucked away behind the counter or in the pharmacy. Of course, there are good reasons for this, organized retail crime (ORC) and regulatory compliance being chief among them, but that does not change the fact that frustrated customers often will be compelled to leave without the product rather than wait for assistance.

Educating customers as to why access is limited may lessen the frustration, and this is a good idea.  Increasingly, however, retailers are coming up with innovative ways to make vulnerable products accessible while simultaneously protecting them. For example, many of the cameras, public view monitors and other hardware in use are already equipped with motion detectors. When motion is detected in a particular area, a message goes out over the store intercom, “Customer needs assistance in electronics.” This not only helps improve customer service by alerting management and employees that a customer requires assistance, but also can deter theft by letting potential thieves know they are being watched and a store employee is on the way.

Engage Employees to Impact Loss Prevention

Loss prevention professionals are highly focused on causes of loss like employee theft, shoplifting, organized retail crime and administrative error.  However, the absence or perceived inadequacy of customer service can just as often lead to lost sales, and this form of loss can be devastating if only because it is so easily prevented.

Poor customer service can actually drive customers elsewhere, however good customer service can increase sales while positively impacting loss prevention efforts. Engaging customers and offering a greeting or assistance when a guest clearly signals that they are looking for something they can’t find are crucial elements in good customer service. Rather than becoming frustrated or leaving without the product, engaged customers have the opportunity to access a product and ask questions, putting them one step closer to making a purchase decision. These customer service actions also act as deterrents. No shoplifter wants to be engaged in conversation and a thief is much happier when ignored or, better yet, unnoticed. By greeting all customers, employees may never know just how many thefts they have helped to prevent.

There is little that discourages shoppers more than long, slow checkout lines.  Unhappy or impatient customers are likely to drop their merchandise and walk out of the store when faced with a long line that does not appear to be moving. Long lines also provide the opportunity for customers to rethink their “need” for the merchandise or, worse, consider pocketing the item and slipping out of the store unnoticed. A little customer service goes a long way in this situation.  All employees, even those who are not able to operate the registers, can help to move things along by bagging merchandise, managing the line or removing EAS tags.  At the very least, this removes the possibility that busy shoppers, with goods in hand and places to be, will see idle employees standing by, adding to their frustration.

The link between customer service and loss prevention is undeniable. A concerted focus on both has the potential to impact each, contributing to profitability and creating loyalty to drive sales.

Andrew Wren serves as chief executive officer of Wren Solutions, a loss-prevention technology provider helping leading retailers reduce loss and increase profits. Wren is responsible for corporate and product strategy, leveraging his more than two decades of security technology expertise. To learn more about Wren’s solutions, visit www.wrensolutions.com