There’s a big problem plaguing retail these days:
Many times, smartphones seem smarter than the sales associates as they make a wealth of knowledge available about the products you’re seeking in a flash.
If you’ve ever experienced this for yourself while shopping, it’s not hard to imagine why this issue alone can mean the difference between gaining a loyal new customer and losing one after failing to help them find what they needed.
The access to information smartphones give shoppers has turned retail shopping on its head over the past few years.
But while consumers continue to arm themselves with more powerful shopping tools, many stores are still stuck in the past––refusing to invest in the tools store associates need to make themselves useful to shoppers.
If this sounds like you, a quick look at the numbers should be all it takes to change your mind about getting serious about improvement. According to research by Experticity, over 50% of customers are looking for expert advice on what to buy when they enter a store and 73% say product knowledge is what they need most from a sales associate.
Tired of watching customers shake their heads and walk out the door when associates struggle to help them find what they’re looking for?
It’s time to make a change and jump into the 21st century.
Let’s get practical about empowering your sales associates with three improvements you can start working toward today.
1. Gather customer feedback and highlight areas for improvement
Simply put, when store associates don’t have the tools to answer product questions beyond what customers can learn on their own, they’re nothing more than store guides.
Chances are you already have a wealth of information about product specifications, reviews, pricing, instructions, and other information customers want to see––it’s just tucked away out of your associates’ reach.
The first step to empowering your associates to be the product experts customers expect is making this data available at the front line.
Where do you start?
Before you invest in new tools, you need to know what they need to accomplish.
To get a pulse on what kinds questions are going unanswered, start gathering feedback right from the source: your customers.
Customer intercept programs are designed to answer exactly these kinds of questions. Using customized on-site surveys, you can find out exactly why customers are leaving empty handed.
When poor associate service is to blame, you can highlight common customer questions and get the answers out to your associates so they can start addressing these topics immediately.
With a clear list of problems in front of you, you can ensure your strategy for improvement is focused squarely on what your customers want––maximizing ROI and giving you a way to measure and track customer reactions after changes are made.
2. Grant full access to customer contact and profile information
Many brick-and-mortar shoppers don’t just shop in the store, they’re active online too.
If you also offer eCommerce service, customer profile data is most likely already available––you’re just not putting that information in the hands of those who actually interact with customers everyday.
Armed with customer profile data including purchase histories, wish lists, and registries, sales associates don’t have to waste time finding out what customers are looking for––it’s all right there in front of them.
Systems like Raymark’s Mosaic Store Platform compiles eCommerce and in-store customer profile data into one system associates can access in-store via tablet or smartphone.
With the swipe of a finger, your staff has complete product information, point of sale capabilities, inventory management options, and a clienteling tool that makes it easier than ever to get associates active in the selling process.
Using these new retail systems, returning customers can be given personalized product recommendations as they walk through the door, demonstrating not only a deep understanding of the products, but also a deep understanding of the customers themselves.
While of course this requires putting new tools and software systems inside your stores, you can start transitioning your associates into personalized product advisors today by making clienteling the center point of your service strategy.
In short, it’s putting the focus of your associates squarely on recognizing the needs of shoppers as they walk through the door and using a deep understanding of products to provide individualized service.
Picture a camping equipment supplier with a shopper who is intently examining the tent models available. An effective sales associate will not only be able to recognize that this person is obviously looking for a specific kind of tent, but will go the extra mile to show them the waterproof tent covers when they mention they’ll be dealing with rain during their camping trip.
When you can provide exceptional service like this, trust is gained and the opportunity to collect customer contact data presents itself.
This is a great starting point if you’re still in the early stages of connecting one-on-one with customers and want to quickly grow a database of contacts.
3. Give associates the ability to sell items not available in the store
We’ve all searched the web for a product and gone into the store only to find out it’s a “web-only item.”
Instead of forcing your associates to be the bearers of bad news, turn these potentially damaging situations into “wow” moments for the customer by giving them the opportunity to order those items right from the store for pickup or home delivery.
Customer intercepts, again, are your first step to prioritizing what you need to do first to empower your associates.
Craft an on-site survey to determine your shoppers’ purchasing habits among other retailers and how well your store may or may not be meeting a need. Start integrating in-store ordering if you find you’re turning customers away when they can’t get the products they look for in person.
To get started right now, get your associates recording each product they’re hearing customers ask about which aren’t currently available in-store. Use these lists to improve product availability and give your associates the opportunity to connect those products to the customers who come looking for them.
Empowering store associates means putting the power of information at their fingertips. As customers become more empowered to find a wealth of information on their own, it’s up to you to make sure your associates stay a step ahead and become the resources customers expect them to be.