Can you think of a recent shopping experience which really surprised and delighted you? Just before a training workshop I was running recently, I rushed into one of my favourite grocery retailers to see if they had a pile of Post- It pads that I needed.
As I went through the aisles and found the stationery, I couldn’t find what I was looking for, and went to the front to the owner/manager to see if they had any in the store. He told me that they didn’t actually stock Post-Its – they are, after all, a grocery retailer – but a couple of seconds later he took me to his office and gave me everything he had. I asked what I owed, and he looked me straight in the eye and insisted that it was free.
I was most grateful to Max, but not in any way surprised. This chain has a reputation for responsive service in all 900 branches, and the fact that just about all of them are individually owned and managed in partnership with the central office means there is a sense of “family” involved.
That was without a doubt a “Wow!” shopping experience to be added to the collection of others in the chain.
Why customers return to buy more
Research in the UK published by Professor Moira Clark and the Henley Centre for Customer Management points out that retailers must deliver on as many as ten different elements of the shopping experience simultaneously to hit the mark.
Unlike my experience at Max’s store, it’s not about just an occasional fantastic experience that occurs every once in a while.
It’s rather a combination of consistent events that make all the difference, and there are many possible actions and characteristics that will lead to customers returning to buy more, being open to cross-sales and up-sales, and telling others about their experience.
Max also does other things for his customers. Apart from making the retail experience fun and easy, it’s also a social event. My kids love Max because he occasionally gives them a gingerbread man. My wife loves him because she can occasionally ask him to deliver groceries.
Of course, in today’s crazy world, customers’ expectations are pretty high, and it’s easy to fall short. Even worse it’s very hard to recover from bad experiences, even with something that’s over-the-top. Spend a few minutes on the internet, twitter or any social media site and you’ll see that moaning is more common than praise.
Get the basics right
So what can you do to create an extraordinary experience for shoppers? There are probably two levels that you have to look to. First, you have to make sure that you get the basics incredibly right. Is the parking safe and available?
Is everything nicely signposted and easy to reach? Are the queues manageable? Is the store hygienic and safe? These, and dozens of other factors form the foundation on which everything else rests.
But at the second level is where the magic lies. It’s about the little surprises that bowl over customers, the little things that they have never seen before, or that they know probably won’t happen elsewhere. Perhaps you recognised them and asked about their holiday, or paid them a compliment.
Maybe you made them smile or laugh. It could be that you noticed they were struggling with something and went out of your way to help them. Or you may even take five minutes to explain something to them that they never knew before.
There are five major areas that contribute to a great shopping experience:
- Engagement: being polite, genuinely caring and interested in helping, acknowledging and listening. Connecting with people in a short conversation, paying them compliments, asking about their families or past-times, even just talking about the weather really helps, and is also motivating for your staff because they break the routine.
- Executional excellence: patiently explaining and advising, checking stock, helping to find products, having product knowledge and providing unexpected product quality makes a big difference. This is where getting the basics right mentioned above can create a solid foundation. Max’s staff spray all vegetable with a fine mist to make them appear fresher, and there are rarely gaps in the shelves because of stock running out.
- Brand experience: exciting store design and atmosphere, consistently great product quality, making customers feel they’re special and that they always get a deal. I don’t think I’ve ever walked into Max’s store without smelling something delicious. Sometimes it’s freshly baked bread or cakes, at other times is a curry or a stew. The lights are bright, they aisles are broad, and there’s also a “Kid Zone” to give mom a bit of peace.
- Expediting: being sensitive to customers’ time on long check-out lines, being proactive in helping speed the shopping process. Sure, there are busy times, but when all the tills are open, and you see managers packing bags, you know they are doing their best to get you out of there as quickly as they can.
- Problem Recovery: helping resolve and compensate for problems, upgrading quality and ensuring complete satisfaction. It wasn’t just the Post-Its for me that did the trick, but the creative responsiveness to my need as a customer. I heard that on another occasion one of his clients left a birthday cake in the car, so he sent his staff to her home to re-decorate it! On another occasion a little old lady broke her walking stick in his store, so they went out and bought her a brand new and beautiful walking stick, and even sawed it to the right length while she waited. These things make the shopping experience very special.
I’d like to suggest that you start by looking out for things that make it easy for your customers to do business with you – physically, intellectually, emotionally, and in terms of time effort. But then you also need to look out for opportunities to create surprises for them.