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The best way to gauge your customer service? Ask

From the December 2016 issue

Read the article below or download the PDF.

By Georganne Bender
By Rich Kizer
Published: January 9, 2017
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Question: How can I be sure that our customer service is as strong as I want it to be?

Answer: Each year we hold consumer focus groups to hear what customers have to say about the in-store experience. Great customer service is often overlooked these days, yet it’s the one area that’s consistently on top of every customer’s wish list. No shopper wants to be ignored, and no retailer wants to offer less than perfect service, but it still happens far too often.

Customers say that sometimes shopping is just too much of a hassle: Stores are hard to shop, they can’t find what they came in to buy, and they can’t find a knowledgeable associate when they need one. If you want to get a handle on how good the service is in your store, consider a few of the following ideas.

1. Host a focus group.
Invite 15 customers to participate in your focus group, but set the room for eight to 10. It’s always better to have to bring in extra chairs than to have empty seats. It makes the event seem even more important.

You can hold your focus group in your store or off-site. Either way, you’ll need someone to mediate —it’s hard to be objective when someone says something less than stellar about your store, and once you get defensive the group will shut down. You can observe behind closed doors, or videotape it to watch later. Serve refreshments and have a list of questions ready to keep the conversation moving. You’ll need to give each participant a gift of value for participating; we generally give $50 to $100 in cash (you could substitute a store gift card), plus a gift valued at around $20.

2. Create a customer advisory board.
Create a customer advisory board. Similar to a corporate board of directors, your advisory board will meet with you every three months to discuss the things you’ve done—and planned —in your store. For best results, choose a group of diverse people from different generations.

3. Conduct exit interviews.
Station yourself near the front door, and when a customer is about to leave, politely stop him and ask if he found everything he was looking for. Exit interviews are great for identifying the products customers wish you carried, and you’ll be able to save the sale when customers find you do have whatever they came in to purchase but couldn’t locate.

4. Use customer comment cards.
Place “Tell Us What You Think!” cards on your cash wrap, service counters and on your website for customers to fill out. These are great for time-starved customers who have something to say but are short on time to stop and talk.

5. Ask your team.
Store associate feedback is critical, so ask your team to fill you in on what they’re hearing from customers on the sales floor. Give each one a small notebook to carry around so they can easily jot down customer comments. You can discuss these comments in detail during your store meetings.

6. Ask our BIG question.
You’ll get unbelievably useful information when you ask customers our Kizer & Bender BIG Question: “What ONE thing could we do to ________?” You fill in the blank.

“What ONE thing could we do to improve our customer service?” or “What ONE service could we add to make it more convenient to shop here?” or “What ONE in-store event could we add that you would like to attend?”

The customer has to put thought into his or her answer, so you’ll hear constructive things you’ll be able to easily implement. Don’t be surprised if several shoppers tell you a variation on the same theme; that’s a good thing! If it’s positive, then you have one more thing to brag about. And if it’s negative, then you know just what to fix.

These simple tools will help you find out how you score customer service-wise, and they will give you ideas to help you grow your business, as well. After asking customers for their input, your responsibility is to make sure customers know what you plan to do with what they shared with you. When you implement their suggestions, and especially when you can’t, let them know. Post your responses on a “Customer Interaction” bulletin board in your store, share what you’ve done in your newsletter, on your website and on social media—wherever it makes sense.

Knowing your customers, and what they want, will keep your merchandise fresh, your promotions fun, and your sales floor crackling with excitement!