What Do Your Customers Think About Your Staff ?

What do your customers think about your store when they are greeted by your staff? Are they impressed or horrified? Are your employees comfortable engaging your customers or do they avoid them? Are they dressed professionally and are they easy to spot? One of the things I have always thought that the big box stores do right is to outfit their staff with uniforms so that they are easy to spot anywhere in the store. Is it easy for your customers to identify your employees or do they look like another customer? Worse still, do your employees stand out too much? Do they have all kinds of tattoos or face piercings that will make you customers stare and shake their heads?

Is your staff friendly and accommodating? Do they greet your customers in a sincere way or do they just ignore them until they leave? I have a client who owns a number of successful clothing stores. A few years ago, I remember being in a meeting with him when he complained bitterly about how bad business was compared to the previous year; and there were no economic forces that warranted his drop in sales. So I decided to do my part to support my client and patronize one of his stores in my neighborhood. It didn't take me long to figure out why his sales were slumping. I walked into the store to be greeted by someone called "nobody." Nobody was at the front of the store. Nobody was available in and amongst the merchandise. Nobody was at the front counter, ready to answer my questions. There was, however, a group of employees huddled together in the back of the store near the change rooms - all of them chatting with each other and all of them ignoring every customer in the store. At one point, one of the customers approached the group and asked for some assistance. They all looked at each other, as if to say "OK, who is the unlucky sucker that is going to have to take this one?" Curious to find out how long I could go without being approached by one of the sale reps, I decided to cruise up and down each aisle and check every piece of merchandise in the store - both women's and men's. I spent more than 30 minutes and not once did someone come over and ask if they could help me. Needless to say I left empty-handed. The next day I called my client and told him about my horrendous experience.

The good news is that my client took action right away. He installed remote surveillance cameras in all his stores so now he can see what his staff are all doing at any time - right from his office. More importantly, he focused on re-training his staff to show improve how they provide customer service and he got rid of the employees that were slackers and were encouraging other staff members to goof off. Now, when you walk into one of his stores, you are greeted by friendly staff that can't do enough to help you find what you are looking for. Sales have increased dramatically and he is continuing to open new stores.

Of course your staff should engage your customers in a friendly way, and have great product knowledge. But that isn't always enough; they also need to know what to do in special situations. How would your staff handle a power outage? Would they just stand around looking at each other or would do they know what the correct procedure is to handle customers in this situation; what about a fire alarm? How about something simpler, and more common, like an irate customer? How would your staff deal with a disgruntled customer who will not leave until he/she receives satisfaction? When you aren't around, have you empowered your staff to handle these situations with tact and solve your customers' problems; or do they just tell them they can't do anything and give them your name?

What about at the Point Of Sale? Your check-out counter is where your customers form their last, and often most vivid, impression of your business. Do your staff know how to operate the POS system properly and efficiently so that the payment process is quick and painless for the customer? Do you have long line-ups? If so, are your staff members trained to minimize the frustration or anger your customers experience because of waiting in line, or do they just ignore it and act like scared little rabbits that won't make eye contact? Nothing ticks me off more than having to wait in line, except having to deal with an unfriendly cashier after I have been stuck waiting in line.

If the last impression your customers have of their experience in your store is a bad one, what are the chances that they will come back? Who cares if you are the only store within 50 miles that sells your type of merchandise? If your customers leave your store feeling like they did you a favor by buying your products, next time they may very well make the 50 mile drive to your competitor - especially if the competitor's staff make your customers feel good about buying from them. At the very least, your customers will try to find the same products on the internet - they may not get much in the way of customer service, but they aren't getting any from your store anyway.

If you aren't 100% certain that your customers think your employees are great, here are a few ideas you can use right now to maximize your customers' experience with your staff.

1. Buy your staff new shirts or uniforms with your store name on them; make them similar in style and the same color. Better still, put your store logo on them. If you don't have a budget for new clothing, print out name tags with your company logo on them and distribute them to each employee. It's embarrassing when your customers mistakenly identify another customer as a staff member and ask them a question about your products. Your staff should stand out and should be easily identified.

2. Make sure they keep their clothes cleaned and they don't show up for work with yesterday's spaghetti stains. Buy an iron and an ironing board so that, if they come to work with a wrinkled shirt, they can iron it before going on the floor. If your store sells apparel, you probably have a steamer for your merchandise - make sure your staff uses it on their clothes too. Make sure your staff knows that they are expected to arrive with clean and pressed clothes. Keep a couple of extra shirts in the back in case a staff member comes to work with a dirty shirt, then make him/her change into it and deduct the dry cleaning from their paycheck. (Don't make them pay for the dry cleaning if they got dirty at work and had to change shirts.)

3. The overall image of your staff speaks volumes about you and your store. What your staff wear when they are not working isn't any of your business. But how they look and act when they are working in your store IS your business. Avoid obnoxious displays of tattoos or face piercings (unless you operate a tattoo parlor.) Wild hair colors and hairdos may look great in an art gallery or a hair salon but they have no place in a pet store or gift shop. Make sure the image your staff presents to your customer is consistent with the image you want reflected of your company.

4. Make sure your staff are accessible and have a lot of product knowledge. Never have new staff on the floor without at least one senior staff member. It is one thing to be friendly and presentable but your employees must also be able to answer your customers' questions; and if they can't, then they need to know where to find the answers. It's a good bet that many of your suppliers would be thrilled to come in and teach your staff about their products - what makes them better and how they compare to the competition. Have regular product knowledge meetings that focus on a specific product line. Invite your suppliers to be guests at these meetings.

5. Make sure everyone who uses the cash register (or POS System) is properly trained on the use of the system and the laws regarding credit card processing. Make sure they know what all the possible error messages mean. Give them the ability, and teach them how, to properly reset/reboot the cash register/POS System - this will fix 90% of all technical problems. (I know this because I've worked with POS equipment for more than 20 years.)

6. There is nothing more embarrassing to a customer than a failed credit card transaction. Sometimes it is the customer's fault, but sometimes it is the fault of your system. Make sure all of your staff know how to tell the difference and give them some techniques they can use to dissipate the customer's frustration and embarrassment.

7. If you collect any kind of customer information at the Point Of Sale (check-out counter) make sure your staff collect and use the information discreetly. Nobody likes to be asked their phone number and address when other people are directly behind them listening.

8. Make sure everyone knows how to deal with customer complaints and give them the authority to provide solutions. It might cost you a bit up front, but it will come back to you ten times over in customer loyalty. At the very least, your employees should be friendly and courteous under all conditions. They should take each and every customer complaint seriously and should tell the customer that they will personally follow-up with the manager/owner to make sure a resolution is found. If you have the budget, pay for a customer service consultant to come in and put on a workshop about how to handle customer complaints properly.

My wife once told me a saying that she learned from a favorite aunt of hers: "people may not remember what you said to them but they will always remember how you made them feel." That's such a powerful idea. Are your employees making your customers feel good about shopping in your store?

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