What makes customers think of you when they need something "special" and brings them back to you repeatedly to spend more and more? What does it take for them to recommend them to their family and friends? Most would say "customer satisfaction". Talking about it is one thing but delivering it is a different matter and one that makes all the difference in success levels.
So what are the key things you should do to build a solid base of satisfied customers? Here are some approaches that I believe play a key role in changing a one-time customer into a profitable, repeat customer.
Work on forming a relationship
It is important that you talk to your customers, and by talking, I really mean listen to them. People like to buy from those who are friendly and approachable, who share information and give them time. I have often asked my father to move his account to a bank that has a wide network and offers seamless online services. But he refuses to change from his current bank. This used to be a topic of discussion during every visit home until he took me to his bank. I was amazed to hear everyone address him by name. People had time to have a cup of tea and also ask about his recovery (after a recent surgery). I could never expect that kind of attention from the multinational bank that I use.
Assist but do not sell
You might put off a customer by trying to push merchandise that he is still thinking about buying.
There is a difference in sharing benefits of a product from bragging about it or making competitor's product look bad in comparison. I always get suspicious when I see an ad that makes big claims by talking more about other products' weaknesses than highlighting the featured companies' strengths. Along those lines, customers tend to prefer that sales staffs help them get the information needed to make the best decisions (or confirm the decisions they already made) rather than force them to make decisions. Staying on the right side of what can sometimes be a fine line is important.
Build a well-informed sales staff
How do you feel when you ask for directions to the cereal aisle and the sales person looks at you blankly or leads you to the bakery area? There are days when time is short and we ask for help because wandering is not an option. For me, weekends are precious and I have only a limited window to shop so I can give time to my baby, cook dinner and catch up on my weekend reading. As a busy professional with multiple work and family priorities, I think there is no excuse for not training your staff on what products you sell.
Connect with communities
In today's retail landscape, it is important that businesses go beyond connecting with individuals to reach niche communities, as they are close-knit circles where forming connections is easier, information travels faster and product sales multiply when like-minded consumers share experiences with each other. These communities could be comprised of pregnant women, young professionals in their first jobs or older couples living a distance from their children and grandchildren. Once, you have identified the group and its special needs, customizing offers becomes easier.
Talk about your unique offerings
You are in the business because of some unique features and services that only you provide or you do something better than any others in a category. You might own a photography studio that visits peoples' homes so family pets can be included or you could be a grocer who provides hard-to-find vegetables, fresh from the farm. The trick is to highlight these special offerings and create a special space for your brand in your customers' minds.
Provide a better shopping experience
There are two stores in my vicinity that opened recently. Where one store attracts large numbers of families, the other is doing poorly in terms of traffic. I wanted to understand the reason behind the difference in crowds each gets in spite of similar brands and options. I discovered that the more successful store had a good number of chairs for lounging, their washrooms had better lighting and were cleaner and they had a small nursery for kids with a feeding room. These facilities were missing or very poorly managed at the second mall. I am sure the families noticed the difference in their experience and made choices that had nothing to do with the products offered or the prices. The priorities are different for various retail categories and target customers.
Act on customer feedback
How many of us provide suggestions to our local retailers? Not many because most of the time such input is ignored. If you've ever mentioned something to a cashier or a manager, made a request of a clerk or even gone online to post something and never saw a reaction, it probably feels like being asked to shut up. Not every idea or comment is helpful or can be acted on. But every single one can be acknowledged. Try and share a reason for declining or disagreeing with a request, if possible. But, if a similar comment is submitted regularly, then it is time to take the idea seriously and feel lucky that your customers are making the effort to help you rather than remaining silent and going elsewhere!
Customer service comes in many forms but we all appreciate it. I feel strongly that you can't go wrong by communicating effectively and acting transparently with customers' interests in mind. Obviously, you want to be profitable but, if that is what guides every decision, your satisfaction levels and customer base will shrink.
What other advice do you have for your local retailers to better serve and increase your spending with them and loyalty?