It was October 6, 1727 that Alexander Pope wrote in a letter to John Gray, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Does this resonate for you, with truth and reality, as to the expectations of today’s consumers? Unfortunately, it does. But today, consumers have more choice than ever before in the history of civilization as to where and how they will acquire what they want. Big boxes, walk-in specialty stores, drive-up stores and in-home purchasing—television shopping networks, mail order and internet-based electronic ordering.
For today’s specialty brick and mortar retailer, one that desires to compete with the national big boxes, the most important activity is delivering value to their customers. One of the important ways to do this is by subscribing to the philosophy: Our customer’s have earned the right to our respect simply by walking through our door!
This simple rule can mean the difference between mere existence and a success enterprise. If you personally have an emotional ownership in this simple belief, and show it in word and deed, your staff will have it too. Then, you can watch your sales increase year after year. Sure, there is more to running a successful business than that. But, with all things being equal, the merchant that follows this rule will do exceedingly better than the one that does not.
The following is an example of how not to deliver value—one that you have most likely experienced yourself. You go out for a nice meal and your expectation is that of service and elegance. Do you want some smart-ass server delivering poor service, or even worse, trying to make you look bad in front of your dining partner? Of course you wouldn’t. So why in the world would you allow the same kind of situation to occur in your store, or any business for that matter?
When your customers feel really good about visiting your store they will come back repeatedly and urge that their friends do the same. This is because they believe they received the value they expected when they shopped your store. Does this sound like dollars in the register? It sure does.
In order to deliver on a greater number of your customers’ expectations consider incorporating as many of the below listed ideas into your daily offering as possible. Then, watch good things happen.
- Greet each customer within 30 seconds from the time they enter your store. No matter how busy or short-handed you are.
- Show respect by using your customer’s name. If appropriate, use their first name. If this is not appropriate or possible, then refer to them formally (Mr., Mrs., Ms., etc.). While it may sound simple, watch their facial expressions when you do this.
- Keep your store bright and well lighted. This gives a better feeling.
- Keep your store clean and orderly—make it easy for them to find reasons to give you their money.
- Have a water dispenser and disposable glasses.
- Keep freshly brewed coffee and hot water for tea available for your customers during business hours.
- Have donuts or cookies available in the morning for your customers. My drycleaner always has donut holes and coffee for me (and everyone else) in the morning; it’s a nice touch.
- Music, not acid rock or elevator music, but something in the middle, or jazz will sooth your customers’ tensions. Relaxed people buy more.
- Have a “new arrival” section so your customers will know what is new and it will also create interest in the new stuff.
- Smile, but please do not offer the slick “used car salesman” smiles, but rather the warm, sincere and friendly kind.
- Do things free, like the idea behind the baker’s dozen. Offer an “off the wall” service your customers value but would not generally expect your kind of store.
- Say, “Thank You” as often as you can.
- Regularly give your customers the opportunity to complete customer satisfaction surveys. Also, consider product mix/offer satisfaction surveys. (Share this information with your suppliers and ask them to consider new offerings.)
- Do weekly customer drawings for free stuff your manufacturers and their salespeople give you. Do you really need another coffee mug, hat or T‑shirt?
- Offer valet parking, hire a high school age person to be your valet, they could use the job and your customers will feel very special.
- Hire people to work in your store that exhibit a “can do” attitude.
- Select and train your help well. Generally, attractive, neat and friendly workers that have good product knowledge make customers feel special.
- The Value Equation: Good quality stuff, at fair prices and offered with exceptional service.
- Be in stock. Most people hate it when you do not have what they want—and tend to go elsewhere—giving your competition the opportunity to edge you out as the merchant of choice in the mind of that customer. Have what they need, when they need it and they’ll love you for it. (Surveys also help.)
- Efficiency is important. Be sure your systems are not counter-productive to allowing your customers to make their purchases in a timely manner. Customers get angered very quickly when they have to needlessly stand in line. This is especially true when there is a long check out line and “other” employees are just standing around and doing things other than serving customers.
- A logical store layout that allows your customers to more easily find things always makes them feel better about your store.
- Make your store “user friendly” in every possible sense. Consider store operating hours, layout, policies, etc.
- Entertainment is always a winner. Frequently, sporting goods retailers will have sports videos showing on a large screen monitor. Even many of the United States Postal Service offices have gotten into the act with television monitors visible while customers are waiting in line. Some of their programming is even interesting. What can you offer your customers in the way of entertainment?
- The smell of a fresh bakery is always inviting, just ask Mrs. Fields. Bake chocolate chip cookies, or something else that smells wonderful, in the store. Perhaps try using a small portable convection oven as they work quite well for this purpose.
- Reward customer loyalty. Introductory offers stink. They indicate to loyal customers that they do not matter to you any more. Do good things for loyal customers. Remember, you do not own them. Any time they want, they can shop somewhere else.
If you can, stretch your brain muscles daily by asking yourself, “What else can I do to make my customers feel really good about frequenting your store?” Also ask, “What else can I do to set apart my store from the Nationals?” Put your answers into action and watch your business prosper.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.