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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Thrilling Customer Service EXPERIENCE will attract a loyal following and generate sales!

Mediocre Customer Service is Dead. Long Live the EXTREME CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE! Gone are the days when it is enough to have product on the floor and a pleasant body behind the sales counter. Customers have a plethora of retail craft options available to them via the independent craft boutique, big box craft store, and internet retailer. It takes a great deal more effort these days to stand out from the crowd. Many business owners are pinched financially and limited on time, yet they recognize the need to make some big changes in order to outshine the competition.

What is the crafty retailer to do?

Make your store the kind of place that makes folks feel warm and fuzzy. You know what I mean...the kind of place where the customer thinks of you as a friend, where she feels so connected to you and your staff that she brings her pals in to soak up the karma. Your store becomes her oasis...her "feel good" zone and she is invested in your success.

Creating a crafty social hub is more Martha Stewart than Rocket Science. Think about the last time you hosted a get together at your home. You probably spent much of the day cleaning the parts of the house that were going to show. The front porch was swept and well lit. You prepared refreshments that would be visually and gastronomically satisfying. You lit scented candles and made sure that there were fresh towels in the guest bathroom. You went out of your way to make your guests feel welcome, greeting them warmly and with a big smile. When a slightly tipsy guest spilled red wine on your white carpet you smiled and assured him that it was no problem, even though you were screaming in your head. You were gracious and funny and there was a great deal of laughter. As the evening drew to a close you walked each guest to the door and perhaps even walked them outside to their cars. In short, you did everything humanly possibly to ensure that your guests had a happy and memorable experience in your home.

The same philosophy works equally well for the retail store owner! Unfortunately, many shop owners fail to treat their customers as treasured guests and their failure is your chance to shine! After all, anyone who is helping to pay your rent and feed your kids IS AN ABSOLUTE TREASURE and here are 25 easy ways to enhance her customer experience:

1. Use your front window to set the mood! Window displays make a statement. What does your window say about your business? Knit Purl, an amazing fiber shop in Oregon, knows that a playful display gets attention! Check out the felted Thanksgiving Dinner window display they showcased in November 2008. Spring brought forth a charming Easter display.The store is currently working on a felted crane origami art installation and the progress is on display to the delight of passersby.

2. The store should be well organized, well lit, and easy to navigate. Will your aisles accomodate a wheel chair bound customer?

3. Make sure that signage is professional and upbeat.
Unless it is incredibly charming and part of your store decor, a handwritten sign sends a slipshod message. It only takes a minute to print out a professional looking sign and pop it into a frame. Take the time.

4. Product should be clearly marked with visible pricing. Customers will often decide not to make a purchase rather than be compelled to ask for pricing information.

5. Provide a clean and usable rest room. I have been in many stores where the rest room also functions as a stock room. Aside from the theft issue, the owner appears disorganized. The walls in my bead store restroom were completely papered with pictures of amazing bead and jewelry creations. It was fun, inexpensive, and garnered a lot of positive reaction.

6. Cultivate a fun store culture. Do you have a place where customers can hang out? This includes comfortable chairs, good lighting and adequate table space. Crafting is a convivial group activity and if you make your shop an informal place where folks can comfortably sit and play, they will do it.

7. Greet every single person who walks through the door with a warm smile and genuine conversation. If you are busy with another customer, no sweat...a nod and a smile will suffice. I was recently in a local scrapbooking store and had a surreal experience. The store owner was behind the register talking to the only other customer. The sole store employee was cleaning up after a crop class that had just ended. Neither acknowledged me. I was looking for something very specific and tried to find it on my own, to no avail. I endeavored to catch the eye of the employee but she was not going to be diverted from wiping down tables . Alrighty then! I stood in line behind the customer at the register. She and the owner were engaged in a lengthy conversation about upcoming classes and the owner was not going to shorten the conversation on my account. I waited this point it was becoming rather entertaining and I wanted to see how it would play out. The conversation lasted 15 minutes. Yup, I timed it! Finally, the customer left and the owner turned to me blankly and asked if she could help me. It was weird and I will not go back.

8. "Take 10" every day! Take ten minutes before the shop opens to speak with your employees. Review the daily sales goal and discuss current promotions and upcoming events. You are a team and will perform better if everyone is on the same page.

9. Play music all of the time. An overly quiet store can be disconcerting. Keep the music playing and make sure that it is upbeat and energetic. Easy listening might be fine for the ride home, but it is a snooze at a retail store.

10. Take a picture of your store from the front door and critique what you see! All too often we get so used to our reality that we fail to see it clearly. I visit one shop regularly where the owner ALWAYS has boxes of new inventory spread everywhere...on the floor, on the table.... while she checks it in. The process lasts for days and when one mess is inventoried, another box arrives from UPS. I am confident that the store owner views this as transitory, although it has been the same for years. The back classroom cannot be used by the customers and the look is disheveled and distracting.

11. Make a list of those items that can never be "out of stock" and put someone in charge of monitoring the inventory. A yarn shop can never be out of knitting needles and a bead shop always needs string. Make sure that the basics are always plentiful!

12. Train your associates to smile, make eye contact, and engage in friendly banter. The art of creating small talk is critical for sales success. How do you feel when you walk into a store and a bored sales clerk tells you to "let her know if you need anything." LOSER. Alternative query:

Hey there! What brings you into ABC store?
Are you looking for a new project or finishing up a current one?

This approach is open ended, forces a response from the customer, and creates an opening for additional conversation. Crafting is the common on it!

13. Phone Etitquette counts! Answer the phone within three rings and every staff member should be instructed to answer it the same way.

14. Prepare weekly "bag stuffers" to tout current store events. The employee manning the cash register should be responsible for talking up the event and putting the bag stuffer into the shopping bag. Need a sample bag stuffer? Email me and I will send you a copy of one used for a recent client event.

15. Accept returns as happily as you accepted the initial sale. Things don't always work out. Customers sometimes want to return an item. It is a cost of doing business, not a personal attack. Be lovely and gracious.

16. Brainstorm with your staff. Don't operate in a vacuum. Ask your sales team to write down five things that can be done to improve customer service and implement the changes.

17. Form a customer advisory board. Invite your best customers to get together once a quarter to offer advise and feedback. Provide food and drink and ask the hard questions. You will be amazed by what you learn. Of course, each board member should be sent home with a small gift for her time.

18. Do some role playing with your staff. Pretend to be the bitchy customer that makes everyone crazy and see how the associate handles it. Practice add on selling, which can really impact your bottom line. Point to a product and see who can identify the most "add-ons" to increase the sale. You can't go into a McDonalds for a burger without the teen behind the counter suggesting that you "upsize." It works for the fast food giant, it will work for you!

19. Offer free patterns and design inspiration! Everyone goes through a dry period creatively from time to time and it is helpful to have some direction. You should be THE SOURCE to keep the creative juices flowing!

20. Stage customer appreciation events! One of my customers is hosting a series of "SPARKLE and SPIRIT" nights to thank her customers for their business. The free event includes the opportunity to learn how to make a tropical alcoholic beverage, food, and a free gift (donated by a vendor). Space is limited to 20 people each week. The investment is minimal, but the impact is huge!

21. Implement a dress code. If you own a fiber store or a bead shop then you are in the fashion industry. Make sure that you and your staff dress like it! You are a walking advertisement for your business....good or bad. Do you like what you are communicating? This point is beautifully illlustrated by one of my customers, a talented nuno felter from Tucson. Her work is featured in many high end boutiques and she garners the accounts by wearing her creations and looking absolutely stunning while shopping. The store/gallery owners are frequently enchanted and inquire about the design. She coyly acknowledges being the creator and deftly hands over a business card. Another new account landed by stealth attack.

22. Serve food. Food and drink are always welcome. A chocolate cookie goes a long way to making friends. My family moved to a new neighborhood when I was a young girl. I was bored and painfully shy. My brilliant mother sent me out to the curb with a bag of candy, which I promptly started to eat. I managed to meet all of the the neighborhood children before the bag was empty. It is amazing what can be accomplished with a few goodies!

23. Take pictures of your customers wearing their latest creations! Post them on the store Brag Board, include them on your blog, and feature them on your shop Facebook. Follow up with a note for a job well done and include a copy of the photograph.

24. Acknowledge your customer's children and have a safe place for them while Mom shops. A small TV with a videotape playing will enable mom to shop without distraction and take up minimal floor space.

25. Create a store resource/inspiration area. Keep an idea book on hand and considering loaning "how to" tapes and back issues of magazines for free. You are the expert...dispense information generously!


  1. Such excellent advice! I don't own a store, but I would love to be treated this way at the stores I visit. Unfortunately, it isn't always that way.

  2. You are so right! Since mediocre is too often the norm, a savvy retailer willing to make tiny adjustments can easily blow away the competition!

  3. One thing to do is to serve the customer coffee or drink in a real mug or glass. This makes the customer feel at home and slows them down. They are not likely to rush out of the store because they feel they have to be polite and finish their coffee. So now you have a captive audience and you can turn on your charm and sell your wares.

  4. Great idea, Lora! Anything shop owners can do to make the store experience akin to a home experience is a step toward success.

  5. How do you come up with all these ideas? Great stuff! I'm taking it all to heart!

  6. Thanks, Cathy! I don't have a retail store to run, so I have more time to research on the computer, read books, and visit craft stores!