Delivering the ultimate customer experience is vital to the overall success of any small business. With so much competition from fellow brick and mortar shops to the ease of shopping online, small business owners need to focus on what pulls the consumer into their shop and ultimately keeps them coming back.
Today, small business owners are under enormous pressure to provide better shopping experiences while remaining profitable. That has meant evaluating different approaches to the customer experience while providing unique on-trend products.
Customers want to feel supported and appreciated and many times, it’s how a company makes a customer feel that is more valuable than what they are selling. Any consumer can login from the comfort of their couch and place an order for just about anything. It takes a bit more energy and determination to physically visit a brick and mortar – so why not make it an experience they not only enjoy but share with others?
While there are many ways you can create the ultimate customer experience, we’ve narrowed them down to the top five, making it easy for you to begin your approach today.
These are the moments when you, your staff and even your brand, touches a customer. It could be something simple like a postcard in their mailbox, a conversation with a friend who recently visited your shop or an employee simply answering a phone call to provide store hours.
Touchpoint definition: A touchpoint is any time a potential customer or customer comes in contact with your brand before, during, or after a purchase from you.
Making sure your customers are satisfied at every touchpoint depends on your ability to identify each touchpoint. Mapping these points creates a visual how-to which you can use to create the ultimate customer experience.
Begin by making a list of every possible interaction a consumer would have with your brand. Think about social media, window displays, signage, even your parking lot. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, visit your shop as a customer, visit other shops and take notes – lots of notes.
When you feel you have a strong list, begin working on ways to ensure every touchpoint is effective and memorable. Think about better signage outside your shop, how your window display appears as cars drive by and how your staff greets each customer.
Robin Urton is not only a seasoned artist and owner of Dreambird Art, she is also an educated consumer who makes her choices of which shops to visit carefully. “I am always intrigued by a good window display that is artfully designed. It also serves the purpose of making me want to come back to visit the shop if it happens to be closed. Of course, this means that what is displayed is merchandise I am also interested in. Reputation matters as well, but it’s the display and products that draw me into a shop.
If I am looking for something in particular, I might do an online search for a product nearby (or in the town I am visiting). This will usually be a Google search, but occasionally I’ll look at reviews on Yelp. The reviews are often pretty indicative of the customer’s experience regarding service,” explains Robin. Notice all the touchpoints Robin experienced even before entering the store!
Robert Unger, retired owner of Moonstones Gallery in Cambria, CA has over 36 years of retail experience and is mindful of shop hours and appearance. “I was open when I said I would be open. I never closed to go to the bank or grocery store or even to go fishing! One sure way to have your customers avoid you is to not be there for them when they need you. In addition, we kept our gallery uncluttered, giving our craft work space so it could be seen and appreciated. One other must for us was to keep our gallery clean. We had our staff dust and clean every day without fail. The last thing you want your customer to subconsciously think while looking at an item is, ‘Oh no, this is just going to be just one more dust catcher in my home.’”
The way things are displayed from the outside of your store is very important as well. Keep it simple, but eye-catching. Remember, when doing a store window display, that it’s best to use a few strong, large pieces rather than a lot of little things. Avoid too much signage or too many posters, it will feel cluttered and distract the eye from your product. Be sure the customer can see into the store, beyond your window display or through your front door. They want to know what they are committing to before they walk in, or they may not bother at all!
Sondra Gerber, owner of Blue Pomegranate Gallery and artist at Metal Petal Art, knows the touchpoints. She advises on the outside of your shop to be sure to, “take care of any visual eyesores immediately – keep trashed picked up and walks swept and deal with any exterior maintenance issues. On the inside, create a friendly, helpful, welcoming environment for your customer. This starts with the staff, they should be friendly in their appearance, both physically and verbally. Staff should have enough knowledge to be intriguing, but not overwhelming”.
Touchpoint suggestions from Sondra:
- Think of your customers’ needs. How would you treat a guest in your home? Add some pleasant but unassuming music, a touch of great lighting that spotlights a product(s) yet gives a welcoming glow.
- Your shop should have a nice aroma in the air (we use mildly scented soy cubes, heated in a warmer).
- Consider the temperature – many times, our customers are wearing coats in the store in the winter, so we keep the place a tad on the cool side to accommodate that.
- Offer them a bottle of water or a hot drink.
- Provide a place to sit, if you have the space for even just one chair. We have found that a shopper will stay longer and buy more if the person accompanying them can sit. We also have a park bench outside, facing our front door.
- Add a humorous quote to cash register receipts or simply say thank you for shopping with us. We value you.
- Send hand-written notes to your frequent shoppers from the owner.
- Offer incentives to use on return visits.
- Train your staff to always “say this” to each customer as they enter or “mention this” when they leave the shop.
Make it Easy
Sounds simple right? Basic customer service, or so you thought. Making it easy goes a bit further than basic customer service, it builds in make-it-easy moments for your customer. Think about a time when you had to reach out to a company for assistance, what parts of that communication do you remember? The outcome, the way you were treated, or how long it took to get assistance, maybe all?
Positive customer service is more than just assisting and answering customer questions. It’s about making the customer smile and feel good about the interaction. Consider the tired traveler who arrives at the hotel which they booked a room at weeks ago, only to find there was a glitch with the reservation system and their room was no longer available. Just as the tired traveler is about to explode, the general manager arrives with the key to the presidential suite and complimentary breakfast.
While this example is not the outcome most small shop owners can deliver, the message behind it is. Take that extra step and offer the unexpected. Small steps can make a huge difference. A Harvard Business Review article found that unexpected, over-the-top customer service was not specifically linked to customer loyalty, what was linked was the ability to make it easy for the customer at every point of their experience with you.
Ways to make it easy:
- Put yourself in your customers shoes. Act like a consumer and visit your shop, even purchase a few items. Use this experience to make it easy for customers to shop with you and eliminate pain points.
- Listen to your customers. What are they looking for? Can you ship something for them?
- Listen to your employees. They are first line attendants to your customers every day. Ask them for suggestions and include them in the changes you make.
- Get creative with your offers, make it easy for the customer to know when you are getting new merchandise in, when sales and events are happening.
- Follow up with the customer regularly.
- Ensure your staff is knowledgeable, regardless of what you are shopping for most consumers enjoy talking to a salesperson who can offer sound advice and an expert opinion.
- Provide amazing customer service, each and every moment.
Using Technology and Creating a Web Presence
While we could place the use of technology and the internet in with touchpoints, it’s a rather large aspect of customer service and too important to not be one of our top five ways to create the ultimate customer experience.
Today’s consumer has more tools than ever at their fingertips to research and determine which shop(s) to visit. With one Google search the savvy consumer can find your store hours, directions, a link to your site, images of your store and reviews. That one small step can determine if they enter your store or move on to another one.
Sondra explains, “Having a great website that shows your shop and product you offer is critical. We have many customers pre-shop us before they come to the store – they walk in confidently knowing exactly what they are going to purchase. Our e-store is integrated with our brick and mortar, with real-time inventory updating. Having the ability for your customers to pre-shop or buy online has increased our revenue and exposure.”
Social media is also a must. “You should post photos of products and people at least daily and videos monthly, if not weekly. This will give you a much broader reach and connection to your customers. If you don’t know how to do social media, hire someone to do it or take a workshop to learn,” explains Sondra.
Check Google searches to see how your store ranks and what keywords will help to have your listing appear. Also, online reviews are important, people look at those to decide if they want to do business with you. Ask some of your regular satisfied customers to do a review for you. If you can, respond to all reviews, even the bad ones. That shows involvement and commitment to the consumer experience.
Staying on top of current technology is necessary in today’s retail environment. Younger buyers are comfortable shopping online and using technology to help them make choices. There is more pressure than ever to reinvent traditional retail practices and have greater focus on digital channels. Doing so will offer a complete and unified shopping experience by blending in-store experiences with a digital presence.
Robert Unger introduced a POS system in his gallery 25 years ago. “This was way ahead of the curve, but it did the work of several people and it gave our staff and customers immediate information about a product, additional back stock in our warehouse and other details about each product and artist.” What a great touchpoint experience for the consumer!
Store Inventory & Displays
With so many product options to choose from, consumers can easily be overwhelmed. Savvy owners and buyers look for products that delight and engage, solve problems, and meet the needs of their customers.
Robert has decades of experience and offers his sage advice, “We were in a gorgeous part of the country. Our selection reflected much of the beauty found in nature that surrounds us. We expressed small town hospitality. Simple, friendly, welcoming. Our motto was that every person that visited our gallery should leave with a smile on their face. When I enter a store, my first instinct is to access the quality of the products and displays. I do not enjoy clutter or obstacles that obstruct my flow through the store. In addition, the inventory and displays should be exciting and of high quality.”
Robert feels that, “the staff should be knowledgeable, friendly, and welcoming. They should be alert to the customers’ interests to offer information about a product, but then let them browse until the customer asks a question.”
When determining your inventory, do consider using Pinterest to see what is trending and what entices your customer. Also, ask your customers to follow you on Pinterest – then be sure to follow them back. Pinterest is a goldmine for finding what your customers are interested in. Use this to your advantage.
Sondra shares some advice on how to create interactive displays for your shop, “I print beautiful bio cards that can be included with my sculptures, helping bring the consumer insight into who I am as an artist.”
Robin feels the same, “I provide a shelf-talker bio card with my jewelry purchases to help promote my products. Customers often wonder if my jewelry is glass or resin, and why the gems reflect the light as they do. Knowing that they are handmade in the U.S.A., they include real metal leaf, and that the images are from my own artwork all helps to educate the consumer.”
Keep in mind, there probably isn’t any merchandise in your store that a customer can’t purchase online. So, when they do arrive at your doorstep, they expect to get something more than they can by visiting a website. That’s where the art and science of retail merchandising gives brick and mortar retailers an advantage over their online competitors. This brings us to our fifth way to create the ultimate customer experience – experience trips.
It’s All About the Experience
E-commerce is experiencing rapid growth and consumers now can purchase anything they need or desire from a website. Combined with the decline in profits of brick-and-mortar stores, it’s no longer enough for retailers to just exist as a community shop, they must now find ways to entice the customer to leave home and visit the store. Retailers now need to rethink their business models to put more emphasis on creating an experience rather than just a place to shop and then go home.
Over the years, retailers have been creatively coming up with new strategies to invite consumers into their stores, get them to interact with the merchandise, stay longer and ultimately purchase. One such retail marketing strategy is retailtainment.
Retailtainment – is retail marketing as entertainment. In his book, Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption (1999), author George Ritzer describes “retailtainment” as the “use of ambience, emotion, sound and activity to get customers interested in the merchandise and in a mood to buy.”
Sometimes called “inspirational retailing” or “entertailing,” it has also been defined as “the modern trend of combining shopping and entertainment opportunities as an anchor for customers.” Wikipedia
According to Business Insider, in fall of 2017 Nordstrom opened a store concept in West Hollywood, California that’s a fraction of the usual size and doesn’t sell clothes, calling it “Nordstrom Local.” The store is 3,000 square feet, compared to 140,000 square feet for the average department store. While customers can return or pick items up from the store that they bought online, there is no dedicated inventory in the store. However, the store does offer customers personal stylists, tailoring services, and manicure appointments. Nordstrom Local will also serve wine, beer, espresso drinks, and cold-pressed juices.
“We know there are more and more demands on a customer’s time and we wanted to offer our best services in a convenient location to meet their shopping needs,” explains Shea Jensen, Nordstrom senior vice president of customer experience.
Other new retail experience concepts include the Starbucks Roastery, where coffee lovers can watch beans being roasted while sipping on lattes; Nike Soho, where athletes can test gym shoes while shooting hoops or running on a treadmill and Samsung 837 where tech-savvy shoppers can take 360 photos in front of digital backgrounds and take classes on phone photography.
To benefit from retailtainment you must understand and gain a deeper insight into your customers. You can gain this insight through surveys, social media, talking to your customers and viewing their purchase history. Once enough information is gathered, use it to create experiences for your customers. Bringing in local artists for trunk shows, offering demonstrations from makers, classes, or networking events.
Robin feels there is much benefit to both the shop and the consumer when hosting special events at the store. “There have been a couple of instances where I was a featured artist at a shop that sells my product line. I do think it’s an effective way to bring people into the store and raise some excitement about all the artist’s works (not just those being featured). It highlights the fact that the store owner puts a high value on the creativity of their merchandise, as well as an interest in being socially connected to their community. It’s especially fun if they can provide some music and snacks to make visitors excited to come in.”
- Enhance the in-store experience with snacks, local coffee, wine, or beer – all items could be made in your area. Bring in the makers and create a meet and greet.
- Invite local artists to come in for a trunk show.
- Have an industry expert teach a class.
- Hire a product expert to help customers find items they are looking for.
- Host an Instragram party complete with a photo booth and props.
With the popularity of “Retail Experiences,” it’s hard to imagine this new retail trend will slow down anytime soon. Consumers are enjoying the promise of unique experiences when visiting local small businesses with demonstrations, classes, speakers, even yoga becoming the norm rather than the novelty.