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Sep 29, 2009

Keep customers satisfied

How can retailers keep customers coming back for more? And is it possible to keep cool in a customer crisis?

How can retailers keep customers coming back for more and how can they outdo the competition? And is it possible to keep cool in a customer crisis? John Bensalhia is at your service…

Simon and Garfunkel once sang about keeping the customer satisfied way back in the halcyon days of 1970. It’s a common cliché that the customer is always right, even when they lose their tempers in the middle of the shop.

So what do customers want from retailers? Are they really after the best bargain on the street? Or are they after the best shopping experience that just cannot be sold?

KEY AREAS
Customer wants can normally be looked at in three key areas: good quality products; value for money products; and good customer service.

The quality of the product is key to the customer. That is why the high street shop is still preferred by some to the online shop. Amazon and other online shops have undeniably become popular, but there is one drawback, and that is that customers cannot physically see the product for themselves.

There is a certain element of pot luck involved when buying on the web. For instance, suppose you order a DVD on a site such as Amazon. You then receive it in the post and it turns out that it isn’t the right region - an easy mistake to make, but unfortunately, there is no one to advise you on the possible pitfalls of buying such a simple product.

Whereas in the high street store, there will always be people around to offer advice and answer any questions that you might have on the product that you want to buy. This is a big issue, so the staff must always be up to speed. Training should always be a key element for staff, who should be well versed in the products. If a member of staff does not happen to know an answer to a question put to them by the customer, then he or she should find someone who does.

The other drawback with online shopping is that it can be damaged in transit. There then ensues a lengthy battle to get the product in perfect condition as it is sent to and fro to the online vendor. And sometimes things go wrong – the product can be lost, or even worse, the product may be resent, but it may be damaged again.

Of course, a promotion may affect a product that a customer really likes. If a customer sees something that he or she likes, and it is available at a bargain price, in theory, this product will be snapped up in a flash. However, the downside is that the customer may suspect that something may be amiss. Why is the product retailing for such a low price? As with anything in life, there is always that nagging thought: “What’s the catch?”

That said, people do like bargains and interesting promotions. The bargain should be good value for money, but not at a price that raises the above suspicions. Common bargains that feature in shops can sometimes be in bulk - say, buy one, get one free, or buy four or five goods for a set price that’s very inviting.

Customers also enjoy promotions that may not be linked to the products on sale. In-store promotions should be pitched right. They shouldn’t be tacky - a man in a giant carrot costume is just going to make the store look rather naff. While the store should not be downbeat, it should still be fun but not too over the top. It’s a fine line to draw, but it should benefit the customer and make sure that they will come back to spend their money again.

The secret to a good promotion is to keep it simple and accessible, and should be a simultaneous reward for the customer and a good promotion for the shop.

CUSTOMER SERVICE
The most hazardous aspect for a shopworker is, of course, customer service. Good communication is key. Staff must not only communicate through verbal speech, but body language is also a dead giveaway when it comes to talking with the customer; in fact, more than 70 per cent of communication is relayed non-verbally. Rather than slouching or hunching, always stand up straight to greet the customer and maintain eye contact - one of the most important parts of customer communication.

Cast your eyes elsewhere, and the impression that you will give is that of someone shifty who doesn’t know what they are talking about or someone that doesn’t want to be there. Open body language, such as communicating with your hands, shows a rapport with the customer, as does a mirror of the customer’s body language, which shows that you are on their wavelength. 

Another big aspect of customer service is to listen. To prove that you are listening closely, follow through with questions and suggestions, and also the same words that the customer may have used. This will develop the conversation further, and in the case of a problem, will allow it to be brought to a successful conclusion.

But what if the customer just isn’t interested, and merely wants to vent his or her rage? It’s easier said than done, but the key thing to do is hold your nerve and don’t get flustered. Don’t raise your voice or pass the buck, especially if you are actually at fault, since it doesn’t show a great deal of professionalism. The best thing to do is smile (yes, really!) or at least attempt a smile, empathise with the customer, and talk them through all the possible solutions.

That said, if it looks like the customer is trying to pull a fast one, by no means buckle under the pressure. Show them any terms and conditions that you might have relating to the company, and above all, be prepared to say no. A good retailer will always have a complaints department or team in place to handle any issues, and with experts at the helm these problems should be sorted out quickly and efficiently.

Good follow through is just as important. It’s vital to keep the customer coming back for more in order to ensure repeat business. So produce customer survey forms, which allow visitors to rate your service. That way you can find out what strengths and weaknesses you have, and in the case of the latter, do something about them.

Keep in contact with customers via email or a regular newsletter sent through the post. 
Customers may seem demanding, but at the end of the day, they are only after a good quality product sold by a friendly, professional company. Get the customer hooked in the first place with strong, value-for-money products, as well as excellent customer service, and they will come back every time.

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