I've written about badcustomer service experiences, but this time, I thought you should see what a great customer experience trained retail salespeople can deliver. Selling to a customer never felt so good. I had finished speaking in San Francisco and was checking out the retail scene when I came across a smallish men's boutique, Wilkes Bashford.
The first floor had an eclectic mix of menswear, footwear, and several collectible books from Taschen. The staff and the merchandise on the first floor made the grade enough for me to want to see more.
I saw that men's sportswear was on the seventh floor, and while motivational speakers around the world haunted me to take the stairs, I opted for the elevator.
I joined a man in an impeccable suit and a woman in a brightly embroidered jacket. The doors closed. After a moment, the woman turned to me and asked, "Is this your first time at Wilkes Bashford?" I told her it was.
As we arrived at sportswear on the seventh floor and the doors opened, she picked up our conversation...
"We have one of the largest collections of Kiton anywhere in San Francisco." And then I realized she was a retail salesperson.
She walked over to the Kiton department, and I followed as she told me a few facts about the brand. She asked if I was from San Francisco, and I told her I was in town from New York for business. She offered she and her husband had a place in Battery Park as we approached the jeans wall.
"These are our most popular jeans in the store," she said. I replied, "Cool buttons," as I casually noticed the price and then exclaimed, "But I'm never going to pay that much for jeans."
"Try them on," she said. I countered, "I don't care if they feel great. I'm not going to buy them. I've worked in men's clothing. That's an outrageous price; they're just cotton!"
She persisted with a bit of a laugh, "Try them on. I have clients who have 30-40 pairs; they live in these jeans. They're for when you want to dress up with a nice jacket and don't want to wear loose-fitting farmer jeans."
I then told her I did own a few Robert Graham shirts and she told me a lot of her clients wear them. But again, I stated firmly, "I didn't come here to buy a pair of jeans."
"Try them on. The fit is everything. What size do you take? They run a bit snug." As she finished, she picked out a stone color in my size. "This color will go with more," she said as she handed them to me to feel. She brought me to the fitting room and said, "I'll be back."
Before I even looked in the mirror, I liked the fit. As I came out, she said, "Don't they fit well?" I had to agree.
"Shall I call the tailor?"
How long are you in town?" she asked. I replied, "Just until tomorrow. I suppose you're going to have to ship them." She replied, "No, please excuse me while I call the tailor."
Once measured, the tailor left. Cathy introduced herself by name at that point, only to discover I was the Retail Doctor. We chatted more as she showed me a world of brands I had never heard of before.
"You pay downstairs. How about I give you a brief tour on the way down?"
I replied, "Sure."
We checked out Level 6, and then she showed me a few Kiton jeans on clearance in my size on the fifth level. Before I knew it, I was in the shoe department on the first floor as Cathy told me about their popular line of shoes, their bi-annual trunk show, and ability to customize.
At that point, she brought in another retail sales representative, excused herself, and said, "While you look at those, I'm going to pick up your new Kiton jeans."
Stunned at her finesse, two minutes later we were exchanging business cards.
A few hours later, I received a personal email thanking me for my purchase.
The next morning, I received a Wilkes Bashford email with several looks and notifications, Cathy's picture, and the ability to contact her below.
Now I know many people could read this as, Well, what do you expect at a luxury boutique? I can tell you, I expect a lot from sales employees, and most fail miserably...miserably, just like legendary department stores. And because of that, in-store sales suffer.
Here's my point of sharing this with you today...
Any retail establishment could do the same as Cathy - if the staff wanted to.
The problem is most don't. If they did, they would invest in retail sales training.
9 Ways to Be a Professional Retail Salesperson:
Be curious about strangers. From the moment she saw me, Cathy wanted to connect. Why it works: By seeking a connection with a stranger, she built rapport long before trying to present the merchandise. This provided her the ability to later insist on me trying them on.
Find a connection. The simple sharing that she also lived in New York made her feel familiar to me. Why it works: We trust people when we discover things in common. In my online retail sales training program, I call this finding a Window of Contact.
Give A Store Tour. Initially, she showed me around the seventh floor; even better, she suggested we tour the other floors on the way down. Why it works: Once a shopper agrees to a tour, they relax and consider other options.
Compliment past purchases. I had remarked about my penchant for Robert Graham shirts and she complimented my styling abilities, adding that their east coast stores carry them and many of her clients wear them. Why it works: Customers trust you when you compliment their previous purchases.
Use analogies. Her image of loose-fitting jeans worn on a farm versus the fit in these made it easy to understand what a fashionable men’s wardrobe shouldn’t look like. Why it works: Painting word pictures with familiar items helps the customer see the benefits, not just hear them.
Don’t take no for an answer – in a good way. As much as I said I’d never buy them, she persisted in getting me to the dressing room. Why it works: 70% of buying decisions are made in the fitting room. It’s a fine line between pushy and determined. I’ll go for determined any day, or your shoppers never give your merchandise a chance to change their lives.
Time stands still. She knew how to pay attention and kept me blissfully unaware of time by never mentioning how long shortening the jeans would take. Why it works: When you mention time as a salesperson, you remind the customer how long they’ve been shopping. You’ve brought their world of cares and to-do lists back into your shopping experience... which is never good.
Offer additional services. Through our conversation, I learned she does closet organizing, outfit coordinating, and styling for clients worldwide. Why it works: By her sharing her other talents, I made a note of how I could use her again in the future.
Go for the add-on. After I had agreed on the jeans, she suggested a second pair of their summer jeans on sale. Why it works: Once a customer says yes to the main purchase, getting them to consider a second is much easier.
Too many salespeople on an ups system don't know how to greet customers, and instead of building rapport, they strive to get someone's name as soon as possible so they can own the shopper and get the commissions.
Cathy didn't get my name until after I had tried on the jeans. She offered hers after she built trust, and building trust is really important to not come off as a used-car salesperson.
As we finished our time together, I remarked how customer service at her level was rare. Cathy interjected, "It all comes down to training. It doesn't work if you don't constantly train your crew to engage people."
When I got back to my hotel, I did a Google Trends search and found something surprising. In this age of store closures and brick-and-mortar bankruptcies, Google searches for the one thing that could save them, retail sales training, which has trended down since 2004. It's as if training sessions and training programs are obsolete. But they aren't for the successful sales staff.
So many retailers are like bad marksmen shooting arrows everywhere but at the target. An app, another friends-and-family discount, or another free event won't save you from becoming obsolete to your customers.
The target, the bullseye, is creating an exceptional experience. One that is remarkable and is seared into your customer's memory so well that the next time they think of getting a similar product, they can't help but remember your experience.
That takes constant training in a clear sales process, and when that becomes your focus, you transform your salespeople into brand ambassadors whose way of working can transform a casual shoppers' day.