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Pump Up Your Customer Service!

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | September 2, 2022

Simple ways you can create a better experience for your customers (leading to more traffic and better sales).

We are in a weird consumer transitional time nationally and locally. Early pandemic protocols gave people a lot of free time with no place to go, and safety nets that changed buying patterns. Some potential students avoided higher education because remote learning was the only likely option. More time at home with K-12 students changed home improvement spending and food/entertainment priorities. When people went out to shop, they weren’t looking to linger in experience based environments; they wanted to grab items and get home. Things have changed.
“Easy sales” are gone, and people are moving back towards environments that promote engagement. Consumers want value, but value means more than price. Expertise, good communication, unique offerings, problem solving, and empathy are all parts of good customer service. Today, we will cover a few of the basic criteria for customer service that you should emphasize in your business:

  1. Customers make snap judgements about your facility before they ever enter your location.- It is critically important for business leaders to walk into their place of business, and walk around their business from a consumers perspective. The sights, sounds, and smells inside and outside a business can predispose a customer’s opinions of a store. If your windows are covered to the point where people can’t see inside, it can create aversion. Junky disheveled windows can lead to a discount mentality among consumers. Uncomfortable temperatures inside a business can lead people to make assumptions about business health. Unpleasant smells can influence thoughts of unsafe or unsanitary conditions. The human subconscious plays an important role in the sales process. What is your place of business subconsciously communicating to your consumers?
  2. Greetings matter.- People want to know they are welcome in a space. A friendly face that clearly communicates that people are welcome in a storefront is critical to setting a productive sales experience. A lack of an appropriate greeting can make customers ask themselves “am I supposed to be here?”. A monotone “can I help you find something?” lets a consumer know that they probably aren’t going to have any fun on this shopping trip.
  3. Consumers can feel when they are not the priority.- Entrepreneurs juggle a lot of different responsibilities. They are the buyer, salesperson, janitor, merchandiser, bookkeeper, and a thousand other roles. All of those roles take a back seat to the customer. Without customers your business simply doesn’t exist. Great customer service starts by making sure consumers know that they are the number one priority. Not small talk between staff, whatever is going on within their smartphone, the other tasks that they are trying to accomplish; nothing is more important than helping the customer. Instilling that ethos in every employee, and putting the customer first through your actions will lead to more traffic and sales.
  4. Social media is perceived as an extension of your company culture.- Your website and social media are often a conduit to in-store sales. Consumers will often check out your business online for hours, contact information, and a window into what they can expect. Is your online information accurate? Do you have photos and links that accurately depict what you do? If you were a customer viewing your business online presence, what would you think about your business?
  5. Problem solving requires engagement.- “I’m just looking” is the canned response from most consumers when they are greeted with “how can I help you?”. We all have those natural canned responses; even when we actually could use some help. Anticipating a canned response, and following up with an open ended question (Are you shopping for back to school? Were you here to check out the new fall line that just arrived? Did anyone let you know about the special we are running today?) helps you engage with the customer. Sometimes customers need help solving a problem that they don’t know they have. Someone looking for new hiking boots because their current pair hurt their feet may also need different socks, insoles, or other products. Someone looking for diet pet food may also need toys that help their pet become more active. Engagement helps staff better serve customers, and better service leads to loyalty and increased sales.
  6. Value added information helps promote an “exceeded my expectations” environment.- “Hey, did you know…” moments allow you to give your customers extra information about products, events, the community, etc. Simply taking products/services and adding a charge is the bare minimum engagement expectation between staff and consumers. When you can impart extra knowledge or find a way to offer an extra bit of service (Can I carry that out for you? Do you need a water on this hot day? Remember to come back down for the Great American Market! Since you are new to town, have you heard about Mix and Mingle?) you are letting people know that they are more than “just a sale”. People remember how you make them feel.
  7. What provides your cool factor?- People can buy products and services from anyone. You can literally pull out your phone right now and search for products from all around the world. So, your question to yourself at minimum should be “why should people buy from me?”. The next level is “what would make my customers recommend me to others?” Testimonial generation can be difficult, but it is important to create passive opportunities to encourage customers to talk positively about your business. At Emporia Main Street, we have adopted gardens that encourage engagement (the amount of times we see people taking pictures with flowers is surprising), the interactive murals create “Instagram moments” where people highlight Emporia, and some of our very intentional event design choices are an effort to up the “cool factor”. What is your monument or element that gets people talking positively about your business?
  8. Employees MUST understand what is going on inside and outside of your business.- Engagement, empathy, and value added conversations start with two elements: knowledge and motivation. If your staff doesn’t know about specials that you have promoted, it can get frustrating. If they don’t know about events and activities going on in the immediate proximity it can make your staff (and business) seem disengaged. Have a basic clipboard of notes that keeps your staff informed as they clock in. Have them initial a form that covers what is going on inside and outside the business for that day, and in the near future. Replacing the phrase “I don’t know” with “let me find that out for you” is important in forming good customer relations.
  9. Standing out requires next level concentration and feedback.- Some businesses recognize individuals or teams that find ways to go above and beyond in customer service. Understanding your customers wants and needs allows your business to step in and generate exceptional customer experiences. Our community is full of businesses that go above and beyond. Browns Shoes heard how hard some of our “long day” events are on my feet, and they introduced me to smart wool socks. Sweet Granada reminds me of certain holidays (keeping me out of trouble), Cookies talked about some of the fit and thermal properties of their “biker clothing” for my dad that works outside (and has a weird body type) so I could get him something he actually liked. My early days on a ranch did a number on my back, and L & L Pets will carry heavy bags to my vehicle if my back is flaring up. The Dusty Trail knows the humor of some of my friends and has the perfect item in mind. Flint Hills Music knows my daughters musical instrument and what type of music she needs before I even ask. There are A LOT of examples of businesses that make consumers the priority in Emporia. Focusing on customer service can make the rest of your job easier and more enjoyable.

We will see several more students (and their families) hit Emporia this weekend. NOW is the time to brush up on your customer service. Make sure everyone on your team understands the rewards of providing an exceptional experience in your place of business, and create a culture of making consumers your top priority.

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.