Today we stopped in an independently owned yarn shop we hadn’t visited before. It’s a pretty store, not too far from our new offices. We walked up the steps and inside the front door, then and stopped, commenting to one another how much we liked this store.
We looked around and Georganne found several things she wanted to buy. Placing them on the cash wrap counter she asked the associate behind it for “fun chunky yarns for my daughter who’s a knitter.” Long story short, the associate’s sarcastic faces and lack of enthusiasm in helping Georganne find the perfect gift caused us to leave empty-handed. And pretty cheesed off about how we were treated.
Lack of customer enthusiasm makes absolutely no sense to us. Retailers open their doors each day with the intention of selling the wares on their shelves. They attend trade shows to find great product, advertise to attract shoppers, write policies that favor customers, set the sales floor to sell, build enticing displays, and even add signage and point-of-purchase materials to make their stores easy to shop. Most would never even consider they might be in the sales prevention business, but like the independent yarn shop we visited today, they are.
You be the customer:
• You telephone your favorite store to ask if it has a certain sweater in your size, only to be told by the associate the store does not carry that sweater. Sale almost prevented. But you know it has that sweater, you saw it there earlier in the day. And being an intrepid shopper, you ask to speak to the manager, who finds the sweater in no time and places it on hold for you. Sale almost lost, becomes sale saved.
• Your son wants a Wii for his birthday. It’s the hottest thing going and almost impossible to find. You happen to be in a big box store buying groceries when you stumble upon a display of Xbox. “Eureka!” you exclaim as you ask an associate to get one off the shelf for you. Instead, he laughs and says, “Those aren’t real; they’re empty display boxes. You’re the 15th customer to ask me that today.” Sale almost prevented. But just then, another associate walks by, hears the conversation, and says they are expecting another shipment in two days. She asks if you would like a rain check. Sale almost lost, becomes sale saved.
• You are shopping at a department store running a coupon sale. You find a coat you like and hand it to an associate to ring up. You don’t have a coupon, so you ask where you can get one. The associate explains the store doesn’t have any extras, but the coupons are available in the paper. She says you can get a paper at the coffee shop in the center of the mall. So you walk to the coffee shop, buy a paper, and walk back to the department store to purchase your coat. Your original sales associate has gone on break, so another associate helps you look for the store’s ad. But the coupons were in yesterday’s paper, so your coat will cost you 20 percent more. Sale almost prevented, until a third associate holds up a handful of coupons and says, “Why can’t she just use one of these?” A sale almost lost, becomes a sale saved.
In each example, one associate lost the sale, and another associate recovered it. But what would have happened if you had simply taken the first sales associates at their word and simply walked away?
Only one in 10 customers will take the time or make an effort to say anything to store management. Most shoppers would simply never come back to shop again, but they’ll tell thousands online (like we did) how poorly they were treated. This makes for not-so-great word of mouth, and not-so-great word of mouth has sunk more retail stores than we can count.
Sales prevention has the potential to happen every day, even in the best of stores. So what can you do to make sure it doesn’t happen in yours? You can’t teach friendly, so make sure your associates are “people people” who actually enjoy working with customers. You also need written standards of operation for every area of your store. You cannot expect your team to know what you require of them unless you tell them upfront. Every company needs written standards of operation. You can’t measure friendly and you can’t measure smiles, but you can turn customer service qualities into specific and measurable actions you expect your associates to follow.
A standard that reads, “Pay attention to customers” can mean different things to different people. “Acknowledge all customers who pass within seven floor tiles of you” is to the point, easily understood by all.
Each of your standards must follow these three universal guidelines: 1.) They must be specific, outlining exactly what is expected of your associates; 2.) They must be concise and to the point, spelling out who should do what, when, and how; and 3.) They must be measurable and easy to observe with an objective eye.
Implement the Buddy System.
Assign all new and seasonal help to a buddy, a seasoned store associate who can answer any question the new hire might have. This takes some pressure off the new hire because she now has a peer she can go to with questions, and it elevates the buddy to the new status of trainer.
Set sales goals (or goals for a specific item or category) and hold your associates accountable for selling a set amount each day. You may have never done this before, but we can guarantee it will make every associate more productive and more attentive to customers.
If you want to test the waters before you jump in, set individual sales goals on weekends. You can keep track via your POS system, or by instructing cashiers to ask each customer who helped them. They can note the total purchase amount on a sheet of paper you’ve provided at each register for this purpose.
Hold a store meeting to discuss the sales prevention examples in this article. Begin by telling only the sales prevention portion of each story, and then ask the associates to tell you what they might have done to save the sale.
Drive these two points home:
• If you don’t know the answer to a customer’s question, then find someone who does. Never, ever be afraid to ask for help. The customer won’t think less of you; they’ll think more of you.
• Before you say no to a customer, offer a solution. Perhaps you can special order the item, or maybe you have a relationship with a vendor or even another retailer you can call to see if they have it in stock. Or suggest a similar item. And, if all else fails, sincerely thank the customer for stopping in and invite him or her to come back again.
Running a successful business requires you to wear a lot of hats. One of the most important hats – maybe even THE most important hat – is making sure customers who visit your store want to return to shop with you again.
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