As it appeared in the Daily Nation on November 29th 2016
I am just from a leading local retailer. Unfortunately, I did not find some basic items that I needed. Like many shoppers, I feel disgruntled when I do not repeatedly find all that I need in stores that pride themselves with taglines such as ‘you need it, we’ve got it’!. Having worked in the retail sector, I know too well that stores do run out of stock. Sometimes being out of stock is a sign of inefficiency on the side of the retailer’s supply chain. Other times, it could be because of a shortage on the side of the supplier or it could be that there was an upsurge in demand. Either way, stores need to be more proactive in ensuring that there are no stock outs of basic items. This among other interventions would make the customer experience less painful.
As we get into the month with the most customer interactions, retailers of all kinds are gearing up for a busy season. Here are my top three customer service tips that would help retailers make our shopping experience more enjoyable. First, stocking up for the essentials is a no-brainer. The worst time to be out of stock is during the December shopping. Many retailers across the globe plan all year round for holiday shopping stocking. Based on past data, they are able to make projections. In our Kenyan context, any leading grocery store hoping to cash in on the December shopping knows that there are different types of shoppers. There are those that shop for gifts either for individuals or corporates, many others shop for family and others do their own shopping. Smart retailers aim to provide all shoppers with the right assortment of merchandise. By working closely with suppliers, retailers can ensure minimal or no stock outs. In case of stock outs, retailers need to go an extra mile of advising customers on alternatives.
Second, it is crucial to have frontline staff ready to be at the service of the customers. The quality of experiences equals the quality of staff. It is likely that during the December holiday many shoppers visit stores not in their neighbourhoods. This means that such shoppers do not know the exact location of the items they need. In addition, some last minute shoppers dash into the stores in a rush. Slow staff or low staffing can be a damaging. In addition, many front line staff get distracted from the core of their job. I have witnessed many chit chatting or scrolling down their mobile phone. Shopping can sometimes be stressful and shoppers appreciate friendly support and willing and available staff. Using past experiences, stores can approximate flow of shoppers and schedule adequate and quality staff to make the flow smooth.
Finally, it is important to get everyone involved in focusing on the needs of the customers. The leadership must especially show the way. When everyone is involved, the shopping experience is seamless. Key questions for every retailer. Is our store or retail outlet welcoming? Are all our staff completely switched on from the guard to the cashier? Do we have what our customers need? Smart retailers make the most out of December customer interactions! By so doing, they reap the benefits of increased sales volumes and create new customers.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy