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Profitable Times Newsletter

You Are the Store

Customer Service

YOU are more important to the buying process than product selection, fixtures, lighting and the colors used in the store. Even if some of the other factors aren't perfect, YOU, and how YOU interact with the customer, can save the day and the sale. The emphasis of this article is on how customer service can enhance the customer's museum visit and make more money for your institution.

By some estimates, eighty-five percent of the visitors entering a museum store don't know exactly what they want to buy. For many, especially tourists, they probably have never been in your store before. For others, changed product selection focusing on new or traveling exhibits makes the store look quite different. WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY! These customers need and will appreciate your attention, and will judge the store more by this interaction than by the product selection or other factors mentioned above.

Customer Service Builds Loyalty and Sales

Make no mistake; your customer service will be judged against a standard in the customer's mind that includes experiences from a far broader range than just other museum stores. How do you measure up against other retailing experiences? What are some customer service lapses that annoy you the most? Is there any reason why these have to be repeated in your store? What can you do to make sure they aren't?

What customer services do you like best? Which give you a warm and fuzzy feeling? Think about stores that you have patronized for more than three years. What is it about those stores that keeps bringing you back? I'll bet many of the factors are person-to-person interactions. Are they doing anything in their stores that you can't do in yours?

The goals of good customer service are to increase the number of visitors who make a purchase and the size of the purchases.

Why Is Customer Service So Important?

  • Retailing has become a service business. Product and the experience are now equal considerations in the customer's mind.
  • Around the world, institutions are working on their customer service and you can't afford to be left behind.
  • Superior customer service leads to incremental sales. Simply put, incremental sales are those additional dollars spent by customers because of a positive shopping experience.
  • Superior customer service leads to positive word of mouth advertising. Word of mouth advertising is the good things people say to others about your store. Even the largest institutions can't afford to buy the benefits that come from this type of advertising.
  • Finally, customer service enhances the image of the institution.

Some key customer service factors are listed below. What you will not hear from me are hard guidelines on what to specifically say within 'x' number of minutes or so many feet after a customer enters the store. Customer service has to be tailored by each store to fit well with the customer's expectations, the institution and store personnel. I suggest you take the following factors and mold them to your institution, train and retrain your staff and lead by example.

1. People buy people — they don't just buy product.

This is the single most important, overarching factor. Customers, including tourists, like to get to know the sales staff. How long have they been with the institution? Where are they from? What are their favorite products? Do they have any interesting anecdotes to share? Has someone famous been in the store recently? This experience can be enhanced with the use of nametags.

2. The customer is always right.

Is the customer always right? Of course not, but the customer is always the customer and they should feel like they are right. There is no value in arguing with the customer. Arguing only leads to negative word of mouth advertising with your side of the story probably not related in an accurate manner. There is an old retail adage: If a customer has a good experience they will tell three people, if they have a bad experience they will tell ten. Bad news travels fast!

One of the areas that most leads to bad feelings is the product return policy. Make sure your return policy favors the customer, is administered fairly and that your staff is empowered to interpret the policy to meet the demands of the situation.

3. Customer service is different things to different people.

Just as your return policy should have the flexibility to meet different situations, your overall customer service should also be flexible. To some older customers, good customer service might include brighter lighting, a settee to rest weary legs, wide aisles for safe browsing and signage with larger fonts. To others it may be package delivery to their car in the parking lot, the tour bus or their hotel. To a local, it may be a layaway plan so they can pay over an extended period of time. Know your customers, and how their profile changes throughout the year, and adapt your customer service to these changing needs.

4. Value the long-term repeat business of your customer.

Too often, in the museum store business, we assume that too large a percentage of our business comes from non-repeating tourists rather than local repeat customers. I believe a greater percentage of sales come from repeat customers, such as the schoolteacher escorting their classes to the museum or the museum's volunteers, than we realize. Identify and recognize these repeat customers, and cater to them.

5. Your actions speak louder than words.

Under promise, over deliver.

6. Don't judge a customer by his or her appearance.

It has happened more than once that someone dressed in a coat and tie is a shoplifter and the person who looks a bit raggedy is wealthy and very interested in the mission of the museum and your product selection.

7. Your appearance matters.

Weather we like it or not, how the sales staff is dressed affects the buying attitude of the customer. Art, history and heritage site store employees, for example, should be dressed in a manner that enhances the image of the institution. Salespersons in a children oriented museum can reflect that atmosphere by dressing more casually, perhaps wearing t-shirts that are for sale. First impressions do count, especially if the visitors have a relatively short time to spend in the store.

8. Listen to your customers.

We have two ears and one mouth, which are reflective of about the percentage of time we should be listening versus talking. A customer with a complaint or a suggestion is a blessing because they generally raise valid issues that are actionable. In other words, they have given us a view from another perspective, into an area in which we can improve.

9. Customer service is a matter of perception.

It is less important what you do than how it is perceived. A simple gesture for one customer, perhaps holding an item behind the counter until the end of the day, can be greatly appreciated, while another customer considers a more difficult task routine. Try to train your staff to be attuned to the individual needs of the customer and provide them with flexible guidelines to meet those perceived needs.

10. Busy but available.

'Busy but available' is a customer service philosophy that suggests a staff person be kept on the sales floor, especially during active times, busy doing things (restocking, straitening, dusting), but at the same time trained to be available to the customer. If you agree with me that customers don't reach, bend, read or ask questions, this person can assist them in these areas and enhance their buying experience.

In today's retail world the golden rule is to treat the customers as they want to be treated — not necessarily as we want to treat them. Hopefully, in most cases they are one in the same.

(This article was originally written for Heritage Retail and will appear in their spring 2001 issue. This U.K. based magazine is published three times a year and has an international focus on all aspects of heritage site retailing.)

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