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Service with a smile

Service with a smile

Author: Matthew Batham 


Getting the service element of your business right can be more important than undercutting your competition on price.

That’s a view supported by recent research from the Institute of Customer Service which found that 55% of food retail customers are not prepared to compromise service levels in order to get a cheaper deal. With this in mind, there are a number of steps retailers can take:

Create a smile culture in-store

The importance of a smile as part of a customer service ethic is not a new idea. There is a Chinese proverb that says: “A man without a smile should not open a shop.” A smile shows empathy and recognition and is one very simple way to make a customer feel welcome and valued. As an owner, you need to create a smile culture throughout the business. When team members are working hard and long hours, a smile won’t always come naturally, but it’s your job to make sure it does. This doesn’t mean every team member should walk around with a fixed grin – that might actually scare customers away – but if a member of staff comes into contact with a customer either while serving them at the checkout or while on the shop floor, a nod and a smile should be second nature to them.

Look outside of your own sector

It’s a good idea to see how other outlets like yours deliver customer service, but it also pays to look at how other industries do it. Why not draw up a list of local businesses you feel provide excellent customer service and encourage your team to try them? Get your staff to think about how these experiences are relevant to how they interact with their customers in the shop.

Create experts among your staff

Giving team members specific areas of responsibility is not only great for motivation, it also contributes to the customer experience. While every team member should have a basic knowledge of all the products and brands you sell, creating experts who can talk knowledgeably about certain foods and products, for example, will help set you apart from the competition. Make sure all team members are aware of who your experts are and the areas where they have special knowledge, so they know exactly who to point a customer towards if they need help or advice.

Customer journey touch points

Think about the various customer touch points, from the moment they enter the shop, interaction with team members on the shop floor and, finally, at the checkout. Each will influence the customer’s opinion of your business. Many retail businesses are too small to employ someone to work ‘front of house’, but if a member of staff is working near to the shop entrance as a customer enters, they should always greet the customer, and if they are not otherwise engaged, perhaps hand them a basket. It’s a tiny act, but it creates a great first impression. If a customer does need help, each member of staff should either be able to provide it or find someone who can. There is nothing more frustrating for customers than asking where a product can be found only to be met with a blank stare.

Make the checkout experience count every time

The checkout will always be the most crucial touch point. All the good work of the shop floor staff can be undone by one bad apple on the till. Here, the smile is absolutely essential, as is a friendly greeting. Ideally, the staff member at the checkout should pack customers’ bags for them and they should also make the customer aware of any special offers they may be missing out on. This isn’t selling, it’s offering a service, just as a waiter in a restaurant will offer information about the day’s specials. Always thank the customer and say goodbye. Nothing leaves a customer feeling less appreciated than being dismissed for the next in line without being offered some recognition of their valuable custom.


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