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What we say, what they hear

Recent studies show there is a chasm of misunderstanding between what customers want and what retailers think customers want. FRANCESCA NICASIO discusses ways to close that gap and better meet customer expectations.

How well do you know your customers? If you were given a pop quiz about what makes them tick, do you think you’d pass? As much as businesses would like to think they know their customers well, studies have shown there is often a ‘disconnect’ between businesses’ perceptions and the reality.

To help you get to know your customers a whole lot better, here are some common misconceptions that retailers form about shoppers and what you can do to set things straight.

No complaints, no problems

  • Business: Shoppers aren’t complaining so they must be satisfied.
  • Customers: Just because we’re not complaining doesn’t mean we’re satisfied.

One of the biggest assumptions retailers make is that dissatisfied customers will always air their concerns; however, according to research by international customer relationship management (CRM) giant Salesforce.com, “not even 25 per cent of customers complain” when they encounter a problem, because it’s too much of a hassle and they “think that company won’t care or won’t fix the problem.”

These non-complainers are also “20 per cent less loyal” and will tell “three people bad things about your business” on average.

So how do you address this issue? The first step is to drop the assumption that you’re doing okay just because no one is complaining. Be more proactive about spotting your store’s shortcomings so you can work on improving them. It’s important to walk around your store and look at everything as if you are your own worst enemy – you’ll see a lot of things you need to do better.

Next, make it easy for customers to voice their complaints. Remember, one of the top reasons people don’t bother complaining is because they see it as a hassle. Break down that barrier by opening more avenues for support. Go beyond the typical support hotline and make sure you’ve covered all your customer service bases, including social media, live chat and community support.

People also avoid complaining because they think companies won’t do anything about their issues. Address this by showing customers that you’re attending to their concerns. Let’s say a shopper complains that they couldn’t find a particular item in your store. Instead of just making a note of it, why not actually get the product into the hands of the customer? Show them you’re working to find their merchandise and, after you fix their problem, follow up to make sure all is okay.

Showing customers that you’re open to feedback and proactive about addressing their needs makes them feel satisfied and comfortable about communicating with you.

Being cool, not looking cool

  • Business: Great in-store experiences mean beautiful displays, cool store features, and technology.
  • Customers: Great in-store experiences mean superb customer service, easy-to-find products, and fair prices.

The European study, Creating and consuming experiences in retail store environments: comparing retailer and consumer perspectives, found that there’s a gap between how retailers and customers view in-store experiences.

The researchers surveyed retailers and consumers to get their input on what it means to have a good in-store experience.

While retailers talked about using “more advanced techniques in order to create compelling in-store experiences,” customers actually cared more about “traditional values such as the behaviour of the personnel, a satisfactory selection of products and a layout that facilitates the store visit”.

While retailers seem to think customers will flock to their stores if they fill it with cool things, customers find friendly staff, great product selections and unexpected discounts more compelling.

Retail innovations are still important. Just because customers are more appreciative of traditional factors doesn’t mean they don’t value forward-thinking efforts. Just cover all the fundamental needs of customers before adopting the hot new trends.

For example, do you have enough merchandise? Are your staff trained, knowledgeable and helpful enough?

Also, any enhancement needs to tie-in with the shoppers’ essential needs. Anything new in store – whether it’s an attractive fixture, a touch-screen device, or any cool store feature – should actually help customers get the products, services, or information they need. If a new enhancement isn’t making things easier for customers, rethink the strategy.

Speed ain’t everything

  • Business: When it comes to customer service, the fastest response is best.
  • Customers: Fast is good but we care more about the attitude of the staff and the quality of service.

Companies love to focus on speed and for good reason: people are busy so things should happen as quickly as possible. In customer service, however, this may not always be the case.

Research has shown that service quality always outranks speed. For example, in a study conducted for one of their banking clients, global analytics firm Gallup found that “customer perceptions of the tellers’ courtesy and their apparent willingness to help were far more important than speed of service in generating customer engagement”.

Compared to speed, product knowledge and sales staff sincerity played bigger roles in engaging customers. In addition, the Customer Experience Impact Report by RightNow, the service experience platform of IT giant Oracle, found that slow customer service came in only second to rude staff when shoppers were asked why they stopped doing business with a company.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to fix your customers’ problems quickly as long as you don’t sacrifice service quality. If you need to take time reassuring a caller or getting to the bottom of an issue then do it. Focus on providing value; be thorough and engage with shoppers. Customers can tell if a company is genuinely working to help them.

Consider the online fashion retailer, Zappos, which tops customer-satisfaction lists repeatedly. Aside from its lenient return policies, Zappos continues to be one of the leading players in the customer service space because of its dedication to shoppers – according to the company, a member of Zappos’ Customer Loyalty Team once spent 10 hours on the phone with a customer!

“Zappos’ first core value is deliver wow through service,” the company said in a statement published on The Huffington Post, adding, “We feel that allowing our team members the ability to stay on the phone with a customer for as long as they need is a crucial means of fulfilling this value.”

Show me the money

  • Business: Customer service is the top reason people interact with brands on social media.
  • Customers: We interact with brands on social media mainly for the deals, rewards and exclusive content.

Research by social media conference organiser Pivot found there is a big divide between the perception of marketers and customers when it comes to the use of social media. According to the research, social consumers want “deals, special content and rewards based on their engagement” from social engagement. Customer service ranked dead last in their responses yet when social marketers were asked the same question, “they indicated customer service as the benefit they felt social consumers wanted most”.

This doesn’t mean customer service via social media isn’t valuable; it’s just not the main reason people use the platform.

While it’s essential that your community manager be on standby to answer questions and attend to customer concerns, don’t let that be their only job. Make sure that they’re out there providing great content, offering exclusive deals and rewarding fans and followers.

What’s next?

The perception gaps mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other incorrect assumptions that retailers make about their customers. To get to the bottom of them all, retailers simply have to communicate with customers. Some ways to get customers talking include the following:

Surveys – send your customers surveys to evaluate products, customer service and overall satisfaction. Take things a step further by following up, sharing the results and showing customers that you’re actually doing something to address their feedback.

Events – round up customers for a fun event and listen to what they have to say. It’s a great way to build a community and gain insights.

Social listening – what are people posting on your wall? Are they tweeting any requests or feedback? Listen, respond and take action.

Using in-store analytics tools and gathering sales and customer data through your POS system can also bridge the gap between customer and retailer perceptions. Want to know if you should add more cool stuff in store or if that new store layout is really adding value and converting customers? Observe sales, shopper behaviour and traffic flow to find out. 

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