For better or worse, e-commerce has truly transformed the traditional shopping experience at brick-and-mortar retail locations. Customers visiting a physical store have greater expectations for a product to be in stock and priced competitively with similar retailers or online shopping outlets such as Amazon.com.
They expect stellar customer service, because it would be even easier, if not more convenient, for them to go online and make a purchase. They would prefer not to spend time, energy and the cost of driving to a brick-and-mortar location. This makes each interaction between a customer and a retailer’s sales associate more crucial than ever before.
Therefore, it's imperative for retailers to empower those working on the front lines to focus beyond achieving desired sales goals. They must also facilitate a memorable shopping experience. To do this, customer service personnel must develop a foundation of trust and rapport with a customer — whether or not a sale is made.
This new approach might seem contrary to the usual methods employed by retailers. However, a closer examination of the experience reveals that a lack of sale one day, and instead an established foundation of trust and rapport, leads to greater patronage. That customer will continue coming back out of trust and loyalty because they weren't pressured to purchase with typical sales methodologies.
The organic development of relationships between retailers and customers is of the utmost importance. Brands should establish a foundation of trust and build a rapport by actually getting to know the customer. This interest taken in the customer — beyond the reason he or she has come to the store — isn't a means for facilitating a sale. It's not a guideline or script pushed by Corporate to engineer a faux relationship to generate a sale; it’s simply a genuine interest.
As the holiday shopping season approaches, those working on the retail front lines should consider the following two insights. Those in a leadership position especially should pay attention, as they will have to direct this against-the-grain approach to customer service.
Insight No. 1
Customer service shouldn't be intended or viewed through the prism of a one-off engagement or transactional relationship. Rather, customer service needs to be well-intentioned, with a continuous dialogue from each successive interaction no matter the length in between. Poor customer service may lead to severe consequences beyond a lost sale. Permanently losing a customer is bad enough; factors such as word-of-mouth and reputation matriculate onto social media platforms, so it's now important on a much broader scale to ensure each customer has a positive experience.
Insight No. 2
The job of a sales associate should be that of an enabler in the decision-making cycle of a consumer. While most sales associates are equipped with a foundation of knowledge and experience of certain products, it's prudent to explain to a customer comparable products and observed trends with other customers who have been in similar situations. Of course, confidently recommending certain products to alleviate or improve upon a customer's issue is necessary to validate reputation and authority. However, providing context and personal examples in such situations allows the customer to fully comprehend and appreciate what products or services are suitable for his or her situation, thereby enabling a more informed and confident purchase decision.
No retailer can truly find success in its respective market, especially against the backdrop of greater market share by e-commerce outlets, without having the right team on the ground. A sales team must represent the best interests of the store while also allowing customers to feel that they come ahead of sales goals. Regardless of whether a sale is made, what is crucial is facilitating a memorable and engaging shopping experience for customers — exactly what you cannot achieve through the online shopping landscape.
Brandon Black is an aspiring social commentary writer based in Los Angeles, California.