Customer service techniques should be at the top of your list when you consider how to increase sales in retail. While getting customers into your store comes first, their experience in the store is what makes the sale.
Attracting visitors to your store through occasional promotions, events, and a killer website is a great start.
But you need to convert those visitors into customers.
That’s why focusing on improving customer service techniques in your retail staff can have an outsized influence on your revenue.
There are a lot of in-store factors influencing a purchase decision. Things like well-appointed and serviced fitting rooms, sufficient mirrors, and visual merchandising can help create a shopping experience that makes customers want to buy your products at your regular prices.
But the missing ingredient when it comes to the best retail customer service tips that influence sales has nothing to do with physical elements. It’s your people and their ability to make a connection with customers.
Customer service is about communication and connection
Connection is the most important factor in sales. It is the springboard for dialogue between shopper and salesperson. The rapport that follows is the stickiness that creates loyal customers.
Look up the definition of rapport sometimes. Never mind, here it is:
“A relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.”
How often do you believe your customers leave your store feeling this way about their experience?
How often do your customers feel like they had any relationship with the person who rang up their purchase?
I’m guessing if you’re like most retailers, not often.
The lost art of conversation
Too many younger salespeople have never developed their ability to communicate on a truly personal level. They haven’t had to and haven’t seen it modeled. Without that ability, there is no hope of building rapport.
Customers see this lack of communication in employees who are just standing around in front of their stores.
They see those employees with their hands in their pockets avoiding eye contact with customers.
They see those same employees playing with their phones while completely ignoring the customers around them.
Many older customers complain that when one of these employees does talk, it often is in monosyllabic answers that only come as a result of the customer’s prompting.
That has to change if you want to be in business next year.
If your sales staff is no more personable than a computer screen, your customers might as well shop online.
And once you’re in direct competition with those online retailers, markdowns will haunt your shelves.
Change for the better
So, how do you get your sales staff into the game? I’ve heard some retailers tell their staff to treat customers like family. But not everyone thinks of family dynamics as a good thing … just sayin’.
Of course, by telling them things like that, you haven’t really told them anything.
What you need is to give them concrete retail customer service training that completely alters the way they view interpersonal communications, the products they sell, and the people they sell them to.
10 customer service tips to grow retail sales
Now that you know how important it is to build the communication and connection skills in your retail employees, what does that look like in practice?
To help you get your salespeople off of the sidelines and talking in full sentences, here are 10 proven techniques and tips you can start using today.
1. Quick connect
Talk to customers within 15 seconds of them entering the store.
You don’t need a sales pitch: just a greeting.
With this simple rule, you’ve established yourself as an advisor and you’ve made the customer feel included — all without them having to tell you they are fine, or they are not looking for anything special, or they aren’t interested in your help.
2. Listen first
As a salesperson, listening to customers is more important than talking to them. You want the customer to carry the conversation.
If you’ll just invite them to, shoppers will tell you about their day, what they’re looking for, and the problems they’re having with their current product — it’s a whole world of information.
Instead of rolling your eyes and wondering when you can point to where an item is or deliver a well-worn sales pitch, realize that they’re telling you everything you need to know to make a sale. And it will make your day more interesting.
All you have to do is listen and be in the moment to practice this customer service technique.
3. Make it about them (not you)
You may not be able to afford the items you sell. That’s OK; you’re not the one you’re selling to.
You may be from a different generation than the customer. That’s OK too.
You may prefer bargain shopping. That’s OK.
You’re not here to be shopping. But you can still enjoy the thrill of someone else buying. It’s just a little different than when you shop with a friend because you’re employed to be selling.
If you want your day to go faster and avoid boredom, then you need to make yourself interested in another person first.
Get over yourself, and get on board with making the experience positive and memorable for both you and your customer.
4. Have a message of hope
Your salespeople should be able to not just inform, but also inspire, educate, and instill confidence in your customers so they can complete projects, find the perfect gift, or just treat themselves.
Those who don’t deliver a hopeful message in their retail environment deliver bland and blah experiences. Their stores share a sameness filled with boring products, promotional pricing, and disengaged employees.
5. Call on people to take risks
When a shopper purchases an expensive piece of jewelry, a fashion-forward outfit, or premium merchandise, it naturally pushes their comfort level. Salespeople who understand this help shoppers move past their comfort levels to see how the premium product is a better fit for their lifestyle.
Without encouraging shoppers to try on a new look or buy a more expensive item, salespeople encourage shoppers to look for safe bets.
This is at the heart of why so many retailers are stuck; they and their employees make safe bets so the newest, the premium, or the luxury items are seen as wasteful or extravagant. And often they say it “isn’t worth the price,” which never helps.
6. Focus on relationships
Retailers have to make space for relationships to grow. That means you must have enough coverage for a sales associate to spend a little extra time with someone and enough retail sales training that they truly understand how to approach and engage — truly engage — a stranger.
That’s what creates excellent customer service.
Without a clear focus on relationships, your store is a duck-and-cover environment where employees are just trying to keep the lines short. There is no time for the exceptional because employees are only thinking of keeping up — of making their own day, and not someone else’s.
7. Celebrate newbies
When new shoppers venture into your store, they must find an exceptional experience. It’s easy to love your returning customers because they have already bought something from you, but you need to love those first-time visitors as much, or even more, than your regulars.
This tips the customary thinking on its head … that you must treasure only repeat customers.
Your employees make strangers feel welcome with their language and their attitude, and by offering new experiences, such as a store tour, on that first visit.
When you focus on established customers over newbies, you can end up treating those newbies as disposable, which thwarts any efforts to implement a customer service strategy. Your circle of customers gets smaller and smaller as your established customers move away or die.
8. Plan for the major holidays
Plan ahead for all of the ways you could touch consumers during a holiday season. When decorations, emails, schedules, and social media posts are thought out in advance, your customer experience during those holidays remains high.
Holidays are a time of celebration long before the actual holiday gets there. Making sure you are prepared ahead of time will attract shoppers to your store and ensure they linger once they are inside.
Bring on seasonal retail sales associates early and train them in the same customer service techniques you should be using all year.
Without planning, especially during the holidays, you are short-staffed, out-of-stock, and invisible on social media at the very time you need to be like air — everywhere.
9. Have a leader who can rally the troops
Many managers were promoted to the role because they were good salespeople. However, they were never given any additional training on managerial skills or inspiring great customer service.
If that’s you, you must be willing to change from salesperson to leader. That means you must set the goal posts of sales, encourage your team to creatively do more, and create a “wow” experience for every customer.
It means you celebrate your team’s victories. It means you make them feel special, so they can make others feel special. It no longer is about you as an individual; it is now about you, the leader of your team.
When everything depends on you, if you have to personally sell every person who comes through your doors, if you are the only one with big sales, if you take a day off and sales tank, then your store — your brand — cannot grow. And that is a direct result of training.
While you might be able to do the work of two people, you simply can’t be two or more people. When you remain stuck doing it all, you go from being an asset to being an obstacle to growth.
Exceptional customer service flourishes when everyone feels included, engaged, and special. Learn how to coach salespeople and your store will flourish.
10. Make it feel like each encounter is unique
An exceptional experience is as much the setting as it is the encounter with your salespeople. When every inch of your store is thought out to create surprise and delight, and you add a professional retail sales team, exceptional experience is the standard, not a rarity.
Customer service techniques and tips can only go so far without adding the personal engagement and connection that make each encounter truly unique. Make it a policy to be consumed with making everyone else’s day before you try to make your own day.
When you aren’t offering a simple inclusive message that shoppers can feel, you will undoubtedly turn to technology to engage them, which creates an even greater distance between you and the shoppers you’re hoping to attract.
Improve your customer service techniques first
Retailers use markdowns, discounts, and coupons because they can move merchandise out without requiring a lot of effort, training, or change. Unfortunately, discounts and promos don’t move as much revenue in.
Here’s your wake-up call on discounting …
When you give 20% off a $100 sale, you actually need to sell an extra $40 to make up the difference in profit. And that’s just on $100 — multiply that by a week-long promo sale and you’ll squirm.
Those discounts are a band-aid on a broken or nonexistent sales and customer service process. It’s like you are paying shoppers to endure your lack of training.
You can no longer say how much you value your customers while scheduling one or two-person coverage.
You can no longer say how exclusive your merchandise is and have sale signs blanketing your counters.
You can’t say you provide an excellent shopping experience when you leave your dressing rooms unstaffed and loaded with prior customers’ throwbacks.
You’ve tried giving your profits away …
How about improving your customer experience with proven retail training?
If you do, the sales will follow.
Although the Retail Doctor is not currently a Supporting Vendor Partner of BRA, we value his relevant retail insight and encourage you to learn more about his offerings on his website: www.retaildoc.com
– Doug Works, Executive Director BRA
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