10 Ways to Turn Customer Service into Sales and Loyalty Opportunities

For most retailers, customer service is just a task they have to do. But the best in class retailers view customer service not just as another “to-do” but an opportunity to drive loyalty and sales.

Think about it. Some of the industry’s top retailers — Nordstrom, Trader, Joe’s, Sephora — have one thing in common: they provide exceptional customer service. And because of the stellar experiences that their employees provide, customers actively choose to shop at these stores despite having many other (often lower priced) options.

If your sales are flat and your shoppers are quick to run to another store if they see a better offer, then there’s a good chance that your customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

In this post, we’ll take a look at how you can turn customer service into a sales and loyalty engine in your business.

  1. Train Like Your Life Depends on It

Your staff is a representative of your business. So train them frequently — and yes, that includes existing staff.

In addition to being able to answer basic questions, your staff should also have the ability to embody your brand and the values of your business. This will not only strengthen the connection that shoppers have with your associates, but it will also help differentiate your brand and make you more memorable.

Take, for example, Trader Joe’s. TJ’s has the image of being warm, quirky, and friendly, and each staff member embodies those qualities perfectly. TJ’s does this by hiring people who are naturally outgoing, affable, and passionate. And once they’re on the floor, associates are encouraged to strike up conversations with shoppers and talk to them about anything.

  1. Respond in a Timely Manner

Thanks to high-speed internet and on-demand services, shoppers today expect instant gratification. They want an answer right now and they expect service immediately.

Now, your business may not operate on the same schedule as a search engine or on-demand app, but there are steps you can take to address these expectations.

One is to reply in a timely manner. You don’t have to fix their problems in a snap, but you do need to respond right away. Quickly let customers know that help is coming and try to offer a timeframe of when they can expect answers.

It’s also helpful to provide other tools and resources like an FAQ page, help center, or online chat to streamline your customer service.

  1. Treat Every Customer Like It’s Their First Impression

How do you behave when you’re meeting someone important for the first time? Chances are, you prepare for the meeting, ensure that you look your best, and greet that person with a warm smile.

Now, if you aren’t doing just that with each and every customer, then you’re missing huge opportunities for sales and repeat business.

So, remind yourself and team that each customer interaction can either pave the way for even more future interactions or it could be that shopper’s last engagement with your brand.

  1. Create Policies, Not Special Treatment

People think that great customer service is about spoiling shoppers and giving them everything they want. It’s not. Customer service is about treating consumers with kindness and respect, while still adhering to the fair policies of your business.

If you bend the rules for every customer, then everyone will want special service or a unique product. This can quickly get out of control and customer service will become a disaster. So, create a fair, customer-focused service policy and stick to it for every customer.

Remember, your service should be special, not your policies.

  1. Under Promise and Over Deliver

Retailers often get themselves in trouble by making unrealistic promises. Over-promising customer service can lead to false expectations. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and let the customer know. Tell them you’ll get them what they need as soon as you can.

You want to be reasonable in your service estimates, then surprise them when you over-deliver. Let’s say you’re running an apparel store, and someone asks you to find a dress in a color or size that’s not in stock.

You can address the customer’s request by telling that you’ll do your best to get the item, but you’re not making any promises.

From there, you can call your stores or suppliers to find the item, and when you do, you ship it to the customer for free. That’s how you under promise and over deliver.

  1. Listen and Personalize Where You Can

People want and expect customized service. A canned response to emails, phone calls, online inquiries, or in-person questions can be annoying and disrespectful. One of the things you can do is use a responsive POS system with CRM capabilities so can keep customer records, personalize your receipts, and set up shopper profiles.

Such features allow you to communicate with customers and send tailored promotions.

  1. Watch and Listen to Your Competition

Don’t be a victim of your own success. There are lessons you can learn from your competition, even if you are positive your customer service is better. Study what the competition offers. See what value they add beyond a coupon or price matching. Listen to what their customers are saying about their associates or in-store services.

  1. Remember That You’re Not Perfect

Recognize that things don’t always work out.

Don’t give up or take a customer service “failure” to mean the end of your business. Instead, learn from those mistakes and create processes to prevent them in the future.

For instance, if you’ve let a customer down because they ordered something online that wasn’t physically in stock, then that experience should teach you to adopt better stock control practices. Perhaps you need to upgrade your inventory management system so your products are synced across online and offline channels.

Here’s another example: let’s say one of your associates misunderstood a shopper’s request which resulted in the customer receiving the wrong item. In this instance, you may need re-train your employees or come up with a system that lets them double check a shopper’s request.

Whatever the case, the important thing is to learn from the less-than-stellar customer moments. Go through any customer service mishaps that you’ve encountered over the past few months. If you find that the same issues arise constantly, then come up with a process, system, or solution to ensure it never happens again.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Customers What They Want

One of the best ways to improve a product or service is through feedback – be it from customers or employees. Take the time to ask your customers what they want.

There are many ways you can get feedback from customers. Comment cards or surveys are a great way to get feedback, but keep in mind, the response you get from them may not be what you’re looking for.

So, why not ask as you are providing service? Start a conversation with the customer. Let them know you are working to improve service. They will appreciate seeing their ideas in action.

  1. Don’t Forget About Social Media

Bad Yelp reviews, Facebook bashing, Twitter feuds … Oh my! Listen to what customers are saying about you on a variety of platforms. Thank people for good reviews and try to take angry customer conversations offline. Don’t delete bad reviews. Acknowledge them and see if you can help outside of the review forum. Never escalate the bad review or take it personally. Business owners will raise more customer anger by acting in a defensive or angry way, rather than behaving in a professional manner.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.