The following is a guest post by Micah Solomon, a sought-after business advisor and speaker, coauthor of Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit and author of the upcoming High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service, on how to build customer loyalty during the hectic holiday shopping season
In retail, the holidays inspire short-term thinking, by default: You are hoping to turn your ledger ink from red to black. Your employees are looking for commissions that will brighten their holiday, if not their year. And everyone is just trying to get through one frantic day after another.
I get it. My business, and many for which I consult, revolves around seasonal purchases. But I know you can find a hundred compelling articles telling you how to maximize your retail operation for the short term, so I’m going to direct a few words to a different purpose: how to use this season to build customer loyalty, and the resulting brand equity, for the long term.
You don’t need any more pressure on your sales team to manically try to rack up sales. But you do need help to make sure it’s done in a way that encourages your customers to come back for more and that ultimately builds your customers into true loyalists who will advocate for your business through direct word-of-mouth and on their online social networks.
Here are four places to start:
- Purpose before function. Have as many meetings as it takes to drill into employees their purpose in your company, as opposed to their function. A job function is something such as opening and closing the store each day, selling, handling returns, and sweeping the floor. A purpose is something along the lines of “to provide a pleasant, memorable, safe experience to our customers.” If employees truly understand their purpose, they’ll know to put down the broom and help out when a pregnant customer, kids in tow, is having trouble juggling her shopping bags.
- Set your clocks forward. Modern customers expect speedier service than any generation before them. (Not only speedier than their parents expected, but even than they expected this time last year!) In this age of smartphones, Twitter, Amazon, and Zappos, don’t expect customers to return if you make them wait.
- Don’t leave the language your team uses up to chance. Develop, rehearse, and hold yourself strictly to a list of vocabulary words and expressions that fit your business brand perfectly–-or, at the very least, carefully excise those expressions that don’t work for your brand. For example, the expression “No worries!” sounds fine coming from a clerk at a Bose® Audio Store in Portland, but would be exceedingly off-brand for Tiffany on Fifth Avenue. Equally important, search and destroy any vocabulary words that could hurt customer feelings. For example, you should never hear your employees tell a customer “you owe us_______.” (Tell them to instead try: “our records appear to show a balance of_____.”) Language truly matters. Words spoken by your staff make up at least as much of your branding, as perceived by customers, as all the print and online advertising you invest in.
- Be patient when filling positions–even when you’re going a mile a minute just to keep up. In an organization aiming for superb service, a single disagreeable or unresponsive team member can erode customer loyalty and team morale. This is why it can be better to leave a position unfilled rather than rush to hire someone unsuitable for customer-facing work.
When January comes, be ready to perceive–and capitalize on– the upside of returns. In retail, it is assumed that returns are bad for the bottom line. But here’s the flipside: A return, at least one that is made in-store, means the customer is in the store! It’s a shortsighted retailer indeed that doesn’t want a customer to enter its store. Sometimes a return gives you a chance to introduce yourself to an entirely new customer who received the item as a gift, but in the wrong size or color, and is now showing up at the slowest time of the year, when you really need traffic. Don’t waste this chance to wow him or her!
Micah Solomon is a top keynote speaker and consultant on customer service improvement, sales, the customer experience, and company culture. A successful entrepreneur, he coauthored Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit and is the author of the upcoming High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service. His expertise has been featured in FastCompany, Inc., Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Forbes.com, and elsewhere.
Coming tomorrow… Renee Evenson on Customer Service Training Tips for the Holidays.