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Retail Customer Service

9 Customer Service Attributes in Retail and How Do You Improve Them?

Uthaman Bakthikrishnan

Uthaman Bakthikrishnan

Executive Vice President

My son traveled from Delhi to Chennai last Friday. He had to take the 2040 hrs Air India flight, and he was traveling from Gurgaon to the Airport.

He got stuck in a bad traffic jam and was worried he would miss his flight. He called me multiple times, and I reassured him that he could make it, or else we would book into the next available flight and travel.

He reached the Airport at 2000 hrs and ran to the airline counter. He requested the passengers in the queue to let him pass by as he was delayed.

All of them agreed.

At the counter, the airline staff gave him the boarding pass, checked-in his luggage, and during this time, she also called a staff member to escort my son through security to the boarding gate.

The escort took him through the security checks, and he reached the boarding gate on time.

The entire process of getting into the Airport to the boarding gate took all of 5 minutes.

My son was visibly surprised by the speed at which everything worked. He profusely thanked the escort as well as the airline staff. He generally felt happy with the service he received and said he should travel only with Air India henceforth.

This is a service that you would share with multiple people for many years.

Here the service is memorable, and the staff went above and beyond in delivering the service.

When you look at the retail vertical, customer service can make or break your business.

Let us look at some industry examples.

How often have you offered a refund, a free meal, or a discounted offer voluntarily to a customer? That is going above and beyond. However, it doesn’t have to be financially motivated always.

Customer service is about listening to why the customer is unhappy and doing everything possible to resolve the situation.

  • Look at Amazon. Jeff Bezos says, “We’re not competitor obsessed; we’re customer obsessed.” This means refunding or replacing lost packages or just taking the customer’s number to call them up when they face a challenge.
  • Sainsbury’s responded to a little boy’s request to change the name of their tiger bread to giraffe bread by temporarily making the change and providing him with a voucher to spend in-store. This has become a part of Sainsbury’s folklore.
  • Lego will sometimes send out replacement figures and extras if a child loses their own, helping to surprise and delight their customers.

We will explore 9 customer service attributes in retail and how we can improve them. It is a combination of both soft and hard skills. It has a lot to do with the technology and people.

1. Greeting and Personalization

Would you love it if someone warmly welcomed you at the retail outlet?

I’m sure you would.

Add to that, if the person at the outlet knows your name and your preferences and tailors your experience based on that knowledge, you would be further thrilled.

Retailers can implement training programs emphasizing the importance of first impressions and effective communication skills.

Besides, role-playing exercises can help employees greet customers better.

The most crucial aspect would be to provide access to customer information that would allow your employees to retrieve relevant data, such as past purchases and preferences, to personalize interactions better.

2. Active Listening and Empathy

How often have you made your customers feel heard and understood?

Active listening is key here, demonstrating empathy and responding appropriately.

Displaying empathy helps build trust and can lead to more positive outcomes.

Retailers must invest in employee training programs focused on effective listening skills. These can involve techniques like summarizing customer concerns and using open-ended questions to encourage dialogue.

Role-playing scenarios where employees put themselves in the customer’s shoes can help develop empathy.

3. Efficient and Effective Resolution

How often have you felt happy when your problems were resolved?

Imagine you interacting with a customer service agent who can take ownership of your problems and provide solutions that meet or exceed your expectations.

Wouldn’t you prefer that?

Retailers should create a knowledge base that would provide employees access to relevant resources to find solutions quickly.

Empower employees to make decisions with predefined boundaries. For instance, Ritz-Carlton allows employees a discretionary spend of $2000 to ensure excellent customer experiences. Retailers should think of something along these lines.

Nothing beats regular training and role-playing that would equip your employees to handle various customer issues.

4. Product Knowledge and Expertise

Employees should comprehensively understand the merchandise they sell – features, benefits, and usage.

This will allow your employees to assist customers, make suitable recommendations, and address queries effectively.

Retailers should focus on product education for customer-facing resources. This will include features, howtos, new releases, popular items, and frequently asked questions. 

Encourage employees to engage with products personally to improve their understanding and confidence. For instance, at ClearTouch, our customer service and support team uses our customer experience platform to provide exceptional customer experience to our customers.

Ensure that your platform supports skill-based routing to direct your customers to the service people with the right knowledge and expertise to handle their queries.

Besides, train and certify your employees on your merchandise and products.

5. Easy Purchase Process

Customers appreciate swift and efficient service.

Retailers should ensure employees are trained to serve customers promptly, minimize wait times, and handle multiple tasks simultaneously.

How do you optimize the availability of customer service resources? It is based on customer traffic and purchase volumes.

Retailers should monitor and analyze the historical customer purchase data to understand the patterns and ensure sufficient resources are available to provide a more straightforward purchase process.

Implementing queue management systems and self-serving POS machines can expedite the checkout process and reduce wait times.

Training in time management techniques would help immensely.

6. Being Upfront with Your Customers

I had an automobile from Honda, and I loved driving it. After a few years, I received a call from the Honda service center asking me to bring my car to the service station and get my airbags replaced.

The reason was that one of the cars released as a part of the batch to which my car belonged had some issues where the airbags weren’t activated. So, they called the entire batch of vehicles and replaced the airbags in each one of them.

This was a massive cost to Honda, but I left a satisfied customer as they were upfront with the car’s issues.

Retailers should foster a customer-centric and customer-first culture. Though it would mean a loss of revenue in the short term, it earns them loyal customers and improved lifetime value.

Organize regular team meetings where people talk about customer issues that each one of them encountered. This would allow you to be upfront and proactive with your customers, where you pre-empt problems upfront.

7. Omnichannel Experience

Customers expect a seamless experience across various channels – physical stores, websites, and mobile apps.

Let us look at this example. I check out a shirt on the mobile app and book the purchase online with the option for me to try, pay, and pick it up at the physical outlet.

I would love this experience, where I can choose in my comfort and pick it up after ensuring the fit is perfect for my needs.

I will give you one more example. I ask for a specific model of a speaker at a physical outlet, and they have run out of the model. They check their inventory and figure that the model is available at another outlet. They offer to ship out that model to the customer’s residence.

How would you like this? I’d be thrilled.

Retailers should have all their systems and data integrated – inventory, supply chain, pricing, delivery, and checkout process.

A unified Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can enable employees to access customer information regardless of the touchpoint.

Retailers should invest in user-friendly websites and mobile apps while ensuring integrated data across all channels.

8. Personalized Follow-up and Feedback

How often have you tried following up on your customers’ experiences after buying the product or merchandise?

It is essential to maintain relationships with your customers. This can involve personalized thank-you notes, emails, or phone calls to understand their experience using the product.

Retailers should encourage customers to provide feedback, allowing them to address any concerns and continuously improve their service and offerings.

Retailers should use the CRM and contact center platform to track interactions, preferences, and purchase history. This would help retailers generate personalized messages, ensuring timely follow-ups.

Retailers can use multiple techniques to collect feedback – SMS, one-click, and key-in responses to automated voice messages.

9. Empowered Employees

Empowered employees are the key to excellent customer service experiences.

Employees at Nordstrom are empowered to make decisions to do anything for the benefit of their customers. There is this famous story where one of the Nordstrom employees decides to refund money in exchange for tires bought by someone from a store that existed in the exact location earlier. The best part of the story is that Nordstrom does not sell tires.

At Zappos, they look at every customer interaction as an opportunity to enhance their relationship. Customer service folks are empowered to address all customer queries, whether or not they are related to the merchandise they sell. For instance, a customer service rep had a call with a customer for more than 10 hours, which was not related to shoes.

We are talking about these examples because they made visible differences in customer

experience, which is documented well, enhancing the retailer’s brand.

Empowered employees are the ones who will have a sense of ownership and are more likely to go the extra mile to provide exceptional service.

Retailers should create a positive work environment that fosters employee satisfaction, motivation, and a sense of ownership.

Retailers can encourage autonomy and decision-making within predefined guidelines.

Include your customer-facing resources as a part of your customer experience strategy by seeking feedback from them regularly. Recognize and reward outstanding customer service, motivating them to deliver exceptional experiences.

Exceptional customer service in retail is crucial for building customer loyalty, driving sales, and ensuring business success.

The skills mentioned in this article can help retailers improve customer service. This will mean combining people and technology with soft and hard skills.

Prioritizing customer satisfaction and consistently striving for improvement will allow retailers to create positive and memorable experiences that will make them loyal.

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