Profitable Times Newsletter

Customer Relations

The first step toward elevating and evaluating your customer relations is to establish expectations. What level of interaction do you want with your customers in the store and through telecommunications? What are you doing now? How do you want to meet your goals? Will what you do differentiate you from other retail experiences? This article is not about the quality of the interactions, the assumption is they will be the best you can do, but about what you could do.

First, a general comment about customer relations. Building relationships with your customers is now both easier and harder than it used to be. It's easier because there are so many tools, especially in the area of social networking. It's harder because these same tools are easily available to all stores at minimal cost, and customers have greater demands on their own lives, which makes creating an impression more difficult.

In Store

Let's start with the most basic concept — listening. Truly listening to comments, complaints and requests can immediately lead to an improved relationship with your customers. Just the act of listening is powerful, but if it leads to action that is recognized by the customer the potential positive impact is enormous. For example, respond to requests for products even if you can't place a special order or add the product to your inventory. React too to comments, suggestions and complaints with professionalism, courtesy and appreciation, and in such a way the customer believes their communication was heard.

One way to be proactive about customer relations is to conduct exit surveys. Periodically, during busy days or periods, station someone who is relatively well dressed, identified with a nametag and knowledgeable about the museum and product selection at the store exit. Their task is to ask customers leaving the store an open-ended question such as, "How was your shopping experience in the store?", and then listen to and record the responses. It's critical to the did they hear me relationship building process, and potential impact on store improvement, to document the responses and make the noting of the answers obvious. Just listening is not enough, the customer needs to know their comments have been understood. By the way, don't forget to regularly ask your paid and volunteer staff for their input too.

Museum stores are the best source of continuing education about the mission and exhibits of a museum. At the core, museums are educational institutions and that experience should not end with exhibit signage and docent tours. Having product knowledge and being able to answer questions and recommend appropriate products that satisfy visitor interests and needs is also a subtle yet powerful relationship-building tool.


Telecommunications includes the telephone, email, e-commerce, social networking tools, online reviews and snail mail.

"How are we doing?" You see variations on this question from the back of trucks to electronic follow-up inquiries. Too often, however, customer relations is based on inquiring about what seems to be working and neglecting getting feedback from customers about what they would like.

Freestyle, open-ended "What can we do for you", and "What can we do better" feedback can be secured through:

  • A toll-free number at the bottom of receipts
  • Handing out comment cards with an incentive to return them
  • An invitation to comment at the end of an ecommerce transaction
  • Short requests for comment emailed/mailed to customers

The formatting used to request responses is important. When asking for feedback make the request sound like something that will benefit the customer rather than an assignment that will only benefit the store. A request to evaluate established activity (probably areas about which you have some doubts as to how well you're doing) typically includes a numerical, letter or star scale of responses to specific questions and limited area for freestyle comments.

Getting freestyle feedback is a little more difficult because you want the respondent to go wherever they feel they want to comment. In this case, the request may have a reverse structure with more encouragement to respond in an open-ended manner. Perhaps the ultimate level of feedback is to encourage customers to use the telecommunications method of their choice to provide a full description of anything of concern, which you should address quickly and directly. With luck, these responses and monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other social networking will make you aware of areas of customer concern that may be festering below your radar.

Product-specific freestyle reviews should also be encouraged. Don't be too afraid of negative reviews because they are actionable and there are some studies that show negative reviews actually encourage sales because they add to the perception that your products are presented in a balanced manner. Done right, these reviews may reduce the need of a potential customer to leave your site, with the possibility of not returning, to secure comparative information.

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