Giving Exceptional Retail Customer Service

So many jobs require customer service skills when you look at job postings and job descriptions. So what’s is customer service anyway, and how do you define the difference between a good customer service experience and an exceptional customer service experience?

First I want to point out a danger that comes in overuse of the words, ‘customer service’ on postings. The simple truth is that seeing it so often repeated, many job seekers almost become numb to the words; not pausing to consider what THIS employer means by the term. You can usually find this information on the company’s website or in any literature they distribute to attract the right people to their staff, and customers to their products and services.

Customer service is about serving others – in this case, the customers of an organization. The most common image that comes to mind for many is a person working in a retail location. Customers come in a store, are greeted (or not) by an employee, are assisted to locate their items of choice (or not) and a sale is concluded (or not).

So let’s run with the retail example just a little. In a small store with only 1 or 2 employees, good customer service involves acknowledging people as they enter the store, asking if they need help, keeping an eye on them should they initially decline help but change their mind, answering their questions and concluding a transaction.

But exceptional customer service is much more. Those that provide exceptional customer service go well beyond the basics and they do it consistently. They read people’s body language; are they in a hurry, just putting in time, keep returning to a certain item on a shelf, look like they’d like to examine something out of reach, or see if their first reaction on picking up an item is to examine the price tag.

Exceptional customer service is also about engaging customers in conversation to the extent that it is welcomed, (again reading people’s reaction is critical). Volunteering information about an item that a customer wouldn’t even know to ask about can demonstrate your superior knowledge of a product, and gives customers additional data they can then use to justify the purchase of a product that they may have otherwise passed over. So for example, in selling a slightly more expensive shoe, the customer may be told about the superior construction, how it will hold up under daily wear better because of the materials used, and its waterproof quality makes it an all-weather choice instead of needing two pairs of something else. Now the customer may or may not opt for the purchase, but they can and often do make the purchase which they would not have otherwise because they could not recognize the additional benefits.

When was the last time a clerk in a store ever called you up to ask you if you were completely satisfied with your purchase, and then made a recommendation for a supplementary purchase? Take a bookstore where you buy a book based on a recommendation from a salesperson in the store. Knowing the genre the book falls into, such as mystery, fantasy or adventure, you might like other books with similar themes, writing styles; especially if its a book which is part of a series. Wouldn’t it be a great idea if they kept your name and number and called you when the next book was due to come out? That would save you from coming in and being disappointed, and they’d benefit because you’d probably buy it off them instead of the competition.

Big box stores have the difficulty of repeating the small store experience. They may or may not greet you at the door, but shoppers are often lost once past the entry by the sales staff. After all, it’s hard to know just which customers have been ignored completely and which ones have been overly greeted and asked if they want help. One common complaint is that there isn’t enough sales people around in big stores, and when you do find one, they often aren’t in the department you need help in. Poor customer service planning by management who has to justify salaries and hiring needs. Problem is, shoppers often don’t look for help for more than 20 seconds, and then they shrug their shoulders, get exasperated and walk away.

Keys to exceptional customer service? Smile, be welcoming and friendly. Thank people for coming in and for their business. Invite customers to return and make them feel that both they and their business is appreciated. Be helpful and offer your expertise and assistance. Rather than being aggressive, be attentive. Look at the flow of the store and walk it like a customer would. Acknowledge customers as they enter, even if you are busy with someone else. If you haven’t got an item, offer to order it in if you can, and let them know you’ll contact them the moment it arrives and provide an estimated date of delivery.

And if you mess up, admit it. Listen to people so you get a good understanding of what they want. Give your customers selection, sell the benefits and value of owning something, and if you don’t know that, find out BEFORE customers arrive. The features of a product and the benefits of ownership are two different things.

Exceptional customer service is lacking and there will always be jobs for those who master it’s delivery.


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