Are your customers invisible?

I don’t rant often.

I don’t pick on retail employees, because I, too, was a young college student making ends meet by working retail not that long ago.  And I’ve had many, many former retail employees as students and as employees since. I know their pain and the hard work it takes to be a GOOD retail clerk.

But, retailers of all sizes – from the mom & pop convenience stores to the largest retailer in the world – hear me out: never treat your customers as invisible.

Case in point: not that long ago I went to a large big-box retailer quite known for their home appliances, electronics and other media items. My dryer had finally died.  It was time to finally buy the mate to my 6-month old Samsung washer.

My grade school aged children were shepherded past the video games (but MOOOOOooooom!) and the other “fun” electronics (“no iPads for YOU today”) to the molto-boringissimo washer/dryer/refrigerator zone that no child (or adult paying the check) enjoys.

We walked around. I found the model in 5 minutes.

And then we stood.

And stood.

And stood some more.

Lest we be missed among all the appliances I stood directly at the “intersection” of home appliances and stereo equipment. No help.

I then decided to use my super-mom powers of mind control (after all they work so well on my kids) to exude that feeling to retail employees that they were being looked at, to get them to look up, and see that a customer was indeed waiting.

No dice.

Taking a more direct approach, I began deliberately catching passing employees gaze, with that ever so obvious facial expression of “HELP?!”

Still no takers.

Even going as far as to WAVE at a few passing store employees no longer helped. I was trapped in the Invisible Customer Zone.

While we’ve all had this experience to some degree, waiting close to 40 minutes to get a retail employee’s attention on a slow night, were there were less than a dozen customers in the store was a first for me.  I had come from the Nordstrom customer service ethic: treat the customer well.  And for the most part – I had always had decent experiences at this big box store in the past.

I share this story for one reason: SMBs –learn from this. You CAN outmaneuver the “big boys.” And “big boys” – make sure you aren’t making these mistakes too.

  • Make sure every department is at least passably staffed, even if that means a clerk rotates through to make sure there are no customers “lost” in the corners stumped about the products they’re reviewing.
  • Evoke a “no-socializing” policy. I know – that sounds harsh.  But when three employees stood chattering and gossiping 20 feet away while I was trying to get help, it makes it very hard to understand why I wasn’t going across town to shop at the competitor.
  • Follow up: make sure the customer is happy. Make sure someone did come back to help the customer. Make sure the delivery went well. Make sure they understand you ARE sorry for the screw up.

Make sure they aren’t writing a blog like THIS one.  😉

Category: Customer Relationships, Customer service, Sales

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