While in the mall on Black Friday I couldn't help but notice that some stores were delivering a much better experience than others, and by a wide margin. You could also see that the stores that were focused on the customer experience were also maximizing the customer opportunity.
Here's a good example. Around 7:30 am I walked into a Gap that was offering 50% off of everything in the store until 10 am. I thought I might buy a new pair of jeans - until I saw the long line of angry looking customers. That line had to be at least 15 people deep and only two of the four registers were open. I wouldn't have stood in that line if they were giving away the jeans. As my teenage daughter says, "Epic fail."
Compare that to the Victoria's Secret store next door. I was greeted when I walked in, all five registers were open, and an employee was talking to the smiling customers waiting in line. I don't know exactly which store had the better deals, but I do know which store is more likely to attract return customers who will be happy to shop even without a huge sale.
I know you know how important the customer experience is every day. At the same time, we can't lose sight that of the fact that the busier the store gets, the more challenging it becomes to deliver a great experience.
Here are some easily manageable dos and don'ts to help your store deliver the best possible customer experience this holiday.
1. Do have as many registers open as possible. I'm almost convinced that it's more important to your long-term success to pull staff off the floor and ring than have un-manned registers. (I could also argue that not having people on the floor is a disaster too.) The big takeaway is don't be understaffed when you know you're going to be busy.
2. Don't have your cashier answer the phone when there is a line at the register. Do have associates and managers be responsible for answering the phone when the cashier is busy.
3. Do make sure there is a natural way for a line to queue, or invest in ropes and stanchions. Don't let lines form haphazardly, like the lines I saw at Macy's. The merging happening as that mass of people neared the register was scarier than what I saw on the turnpike later in the weekend.
4. Do continue to walk out from behind the counter and present the customer's purchase to them. Not only does this make the purchase a better experience, it moves the customer out of the way so you can ring up the next person. (Thanks to Leah and her team for reminding me of the benefit of doing this.) Don't stop doing those little things that show your customer how much you appreciate him/her.
5. Don't open your doors late. I was shocked at how many independents weren't open at the mall when I was there. Do try to open a few minutes early, especially if customers are waiting. It makes a nice statement when your doors are the first to open.
6. Do try to welcome, or at least acknowledge, every customer when he/she enters your store. I was in a specialty retail store on Saturday and it was very clear that the staff didn't care if I was there or not. I happily left. Don't pounce on customers when they first come in the store. I was practically accosted at one store on Friday and I hadn't even crossed the lease line. The key is to welcome your customers and not try to help them before they've gotten comfortable.
7. Don't set the store's thermostat for the comfort of the staff. That usually makes it too warm for customers. I was in one store that could have doubled for a sauna. The staff could have at least given out water! Do keep the store temperature at a level that is comfortable for customers wearing coats. Staffers can wear sweaters.
8. Don't focus solely on your customer's holiday list. Do make sure your customers have an opportunity to treat themselves to something special. It's amazing how quickly sales add up when you do this.
Remember, if we maximize our sales opportunities we'll have a great holiday. If we also maximize the experience we deliver we'll have an extraordinary holiday and a great 2011.
Forget customer service, it's all about the experience.