It’s easy to bemoan retail right now and the lack of good customer service.
Disney just closed 60 stores as of September 15 - leaving only 25 from their fleet of 300 - to concentrate on ecom.
I think it is short-sighted – especially after all the fanfare Disney made about rescuing their stores from Children’s Place a dozen years ago and implementing their Imagineers to craft a unique space.
All sorts of digital-native brands like Allbirds and Warby-Parker are opening hundreds of stores as they realize the limits of direct-to-consumer (DTC).
But if you’re going to have a brick-and-mortar store, you have to do more than simply have a bunch of products made by a bunch of vendors who sell to you along with the rest of the world.
Otherwise, you end up like Sears who once dominated retail, innovated buy-by-phone or catalog and pick-up-at-store, and taught the world about how to deliver the last mile now a pile of broken strategies, selloffs, and stores.
You must have world-class customer service.
What is world-class customer service?
It is making a shopper feel like they are the most important person in the world. It’s that simple.
What does it take to create world-class customer service in retail?
The associate knows how to relate to the customer they are helping
The associate knows how to build rapport
The associate knows how to listen
The associate knows how to present additional options
The associate limits choices to groups of three
The associate adds the element of surprise
The associate knows the products inside and out
The associate enjoys the sales process
The associate keeps the energy going throughout the sale
The associate is used to selling more expensive items
Where do most retailers go wrong with their customer service?
The associate expects the customer will tell them what they want to buy
The associate points to where items are located
The associate hasn’t tried on, played with, or figured out the products they sell.
The associate needs voice lessons on how to talk to strangers
The associate hides from customers
The associate waits to be asked
Here’s the thing, you may think it is efficient to have your employee ask, “What can I help you with today?” on the off chance the customer knows exactly what they want and the associate can save their time.
But 90% of customers don’t know exactly what they want, if they did, they bought it online.
Retailers are being told at most every conference, podcast, special report, and webinar that what will rescue their business will be the latest last-mile Instacart partnership, using a new micro fulfillment company, robots in the aisles, or other tech-heavy investment.
Many of the digital initiatives touted as must-haves are distractions from the very core of your business, the brick-and-mortar stores are still responsible for 90% of your revenue.
Shoppers notice when they aren’t greeted.
When they have to find someone.
When they find someone and that person can’t converse.
When they are told the out-of-stocks have no alternative.
When they purchased what was on sale only to find it didn’t do the job.
And due to the last 18 months of the pandemic, those shoppers’ fuses are short for you to make up for it.
You become brilliant on the basics of making someone else’s day…
A case study in excellent customer service
Bill and I visited the New York City Nordstrom Men’s store. When we got off the elevator on the second floor, a smiling young guy said, “Welcome to the designer floor. Please let me know if you have any questions.”
I looked around while Bill told the guy he was looking for a new sports coat. The young man brought him to the middle of the store where an older salesman was just finishing up. His name was Matt.
Matt asked questions about what Bill had now and what he wanted differently. After giving Bill his full attention, he pulled out three different jackets. He assessed Bill’s size and corrected it as Bill tried things on.
He never stopped the conversation as he told a runner what he wanted and what size.
The three jackets were very different at the onset but as Matt worked, he honed into the right brand – Canali – and the right size.
He engaged me as well, asking where we were from, and I told Matt I was taking a few vacation days to visit the city. Matt shared that he and his wife had just returned from a cruise to the Bahamas and were glad to get back to work.
It turns out Matt had had his own women’s garment company in China. He learned how to build rapport and make the sale - he was a natural at it. A few years ago, a friend offered to buy him out, but then, after some time passed, Matt missed the fun of selling.
I must confess I have been to this Nordstrom a dozen times and never met anyone as engaged as Matt.
We looked for a shirt that worked with the jacket, but Bill didn’t want a dress shirt. Matt suggested a t-shirt which was something Bill had never done. “You just said you’d lost weight. Try it.”
That was Matt’s go-to line, “Just try it.”
So many people who work in retail never help a customer push through their own misgivings that it won’t fit, I’m too (old, young, tall, short) to pull it off, etc. No one knows until it is on their body.
Matt got the perfect t-shirt to try with the jacket, which was a hit.
We then moved on to the pants. Mind you, Bill did not say he wanted pants. He had not looked at pants. Matt had said, “Yes, you can just wear what you have on, and it will look fine.” But then he suggested a different fit.
He had his runner go down to the first floor and pick up three jeans – there’s the magic number of options.
The runner came back with the pants but they didn’t fit quite right. Matt got the tailor over to start on Bill’s jacket and he personally went downstairs to get one specific AG jean.
He returned as Bill was finishing up so I asked Matt why my new Canali jacket had no buttons on the sleeves. “They’re in the inside coat pocket. They must be sewn on after you buy it. Where did you get it?” I answered, “Another Nordstrom. Can I bring it in, and they can put them on while I’m in the city?” Matt answered, “Of course.”
Jacket done. Shirt done. Pants done.
I went off to look around. One thing luxury retailers like Nordstrom do is limit the number of sizes on the floor. It provides a cleaner look to the section and keeps the shopper squarely considering an item, not a rack. As I picked up a sweater in medium and asked if they had it in large what did Matt say to me? Try it on, it runs large. A jacket that was only in XL? Try it on.
I ended up with a Dior sweater.
When I returned to the store an hour later with my jacket, Matt introduced me to a different tailor. He showed me how my jacket needed more alteration than just buttons. He adjusted the shoulders and the jacket took on a different shape. “We need to move the buttons to balance the V it naturally wants to do.” He explained how he could put kissing buttons where one overlaps the other on the cuffs rather than standard.
I told the tailor I needed the jacket back for dinner that night by 4. It was 11. “That is impossible,” he said. Then looked at Matt. “It will be ready by 4.” I had become one of those demanding New Yorkers.
Yes, you can use a rental or subscription service for nameless, faceless people to make recommendations for you or you can encounter a human who truly knows what good customer service entails.
Why do I share this story?
There is a whole generation of untrained people running store operations these days. They don’t know what customer service – true customer service – looks like.
They don’t notice, understand, or appreciate all the micro-steps Matt took to make the shopping experience enjoyable.
They are so busy listening to their digital vendors about the new shiny object they feel they can only connect with a customer if they put in a rock climbing wall or Instagram background or a bar.
Sorry, activity doesn’t solve the problem…
The art and science of engaging a stranger, of building rapport, and making the sale are extinct from many retailers these days. It’s just an asked-and-answered world.
On top of that many frontline workers don’t seem to know what it feels like to be the customer. They are numb to how much shade they endure when they go shopping in their personal lives.
The time has never been better for retailers to become brilliant on the basics.
Bad news: Retail isn’t going to get easier.
Good news: While everyone has the ability to provide world-class retail customer service, only 2% of the world can do it naturally like Matt.
What did Matt do?
Had a team to assist and run
They also observed
Shared his trip to the Bahamas story
Knew the fit of his clothes and pants
Just try it on
Only three options at a time
For most of us, we must work at building rapport, being authentic and so must follow a process.
Instead of looking for more ways to follow the tech, store board rooms need to be focused on store teams if they want to gain market share.