Knowing Your Customer: How to Improve Retail Customer Service

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Updated April 30, 2024

I had just completed a business makeover of Eklund’s, an agricultural equipment dealer in rural upstate New York. While I have a full post on some of the details and strategies here, what I can tell you is that Billy Eklund is one business owner who really knows his customers.

And I could tell that from the moment I walked in.

Billy saw fewer commercial customers who had previously been his bread and butter and more weekend or vacation-home customers who love to play farmer but don’t want to walk down a hill to look at over 100 tractors.

One who didn’t grow up using one of these machines.

And a customer who frequently skewed female as the decision-maker. Knowing his new customer demographic, he knew he needed to change the inside of the store to cater to that new customer. 

Entrepreneurs and smart business owners ruthlessly try to understand and develop their niche audience.

They craft a customer experience where their target customer feels at home, compelled to buy the merchandise, and feels it’s my store.

I’m not talking about your regulars. I’m talking about your target audience

This became very clear at ShopTalk, where many retail leaders shared how they were upset that all their first-time customers were walking out the door without registering the necessary data points.

They walk out as invisibly as they walk in.

Retail leaders are researching better ways to connect with their shoppers and build trust so that they will join their rewards programs or sign up for their digital worlds via their apps.

The more data they collect, the more they’ll know who their target customer is so they can make changes in their visual merchandising, their marketing, and, just as importantly, their store design and product selections.

This goes far beyond knowing your customers’ email addresses or even where your customer lives. It goes to trying to understand where your brand, your ethos, and your very survival intersect with your customers' needs.

Many smaller retailers feel they get a pass regarding data collection, analysis, and implementation. You don’t.

Read about Retail Customer Service Here

Only when you have robust customer data can you understand who they are and predict what they might like.

That’s a far cry from going to a trade show and buying what you hope they want.

But the only way you will get there is to go beyond saying you know your customer to actually knowing

That takes time to think, find new technology partners, and train yourself to be forward-looking rather than worrying about what might happen.

When Albertsons CEO Jim Donald was asked at ShopTalk how he sleeps with what Walmart, Amazon and the rest are doing, he replied, with the best response during the conference, “Like a baby. I wake up every two hours and cry like a baby.”

Billy Eklund has done his background work. As a rural store owner, he didn’t do it as much digitally as he did it personally on his floor. He gathered his information by talking one-on-one to every shopper who walked in.

He knows he doesn’t mind walking down a muddy hill in the rain to look at his products, but he knows his weekend homeowner does.

He knows he loves jumping on a tractor and tooling around his small projects, and his weekend customer does too.

And he knows he can only grow the market for his tractors and other products if he can make that new homeowner feel at home in his store.

And after the makeover, they will. 

In Sum

Retail is going through a transformative time.

Those who try new things, disrupt their comfort levels, discover new ways to provide customer service, and stay rooted in the future have a fighting chance.

But knowing which new areas to go into takes first knowing… really knowing... your customer.