Monday, April 19, 2010

Engaging with the customer

“Can I help you?”

“Doing okay over here?”

“How’s everything?”

We’ve all been on the shopper’s end of these low-value contact questions in stores, restaurants and whatever chain retailer trains its associates with the blunt instrument of “engage the customer.” It’s gotten to the point where such expressions are so empty, they’ve become little more than verbal tics on the part of employees—rote recitations they almost cease to be conscious of even asking.

And there’s a perfect synchronicity to this, since customers are barely conscious of these low-impact greetings, either. In our work with retailers, we hear this literally thousands of times. As an example, associates are typically trained and expected by management to greet the entering customer. Too often, this requirement gets translated by employees into saying “hi.” From a courtesy standpoint, this may sound better than no acknowledgment at all, though we’ve yet to see a higher buy or conversion rate when comparing customers who get a “hi” to those who enter with the absence of any greeting. Not surprisingly, most customers don’t even acknowledge this greeting and walk right beyond the associate saying it—not even saying “hi” back. That’s a big bowl of nothing for a key component of a customer engagement initiative.

“Doing okay over here?” is another low-percentage expression, a perfect invitation for the customer to say yes, fine, just looking.

Once we diagnose how interactions like this are working or aren’t with video and audio behavioral analytics, we provide retailers with the approach to make contacts count more—not in a theoretical, one-off way, but with a selling model that can be scaled.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on how retailers are pushing enhanced sales tactics to drive top-line growth. The realization to bring about more sophisticated training is sinking in, which comes from the realization these chains have a way to go before they can gain more traction on the sales floor.

Home Depot is doing something simple and smart by training cashiers (sometimes the only store personnel who shoppers interact with) to ask customers if they found everything they were looking for—and if not, to call the aisle to determine whether the item is in stock (the secret to success will be if the cashier has better luck finding someone than the customer perhaps did—but the idea of the cashier backstopping the sales process is a good one). While “did you find everything you need?” runs the risk of becoming a new verbal tic at Home Depot, it certainly has a fighting chance of success because the inquiry is offered at an important moment of truth, and requires a specific action step for the cashier to take should the customer be wanting.
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Monday, April 5, 2010

The pleasant shopper

A casually dressed but stylish woman enters the store with her pre-teen daughter and stops to say hello to the associate who’s stationed near the entrance. She’s extremely friendly, and has a large shopping bag of items from a neighboring store. She tries on many things during her hour-long visit. This woman is quite a shopper! She leaves her daughter in the store to run out to the car because she had forgotten her checkbook. During her visit, she approaches a salesperson at the cash wrap several times with questions about various items, and asks about returns.

When we looked at the videotape, it was clear she had stolen five items during this visit, totaling about $350.

From the moment we saw her cross the lease line, she sold herself repeatedly and extremely convincingly to the store associates. Unlike most customers who are greeted at the entrance but keep walking to some real or imagined destination point within the store, she actually stopped to return the salutation and exchange pleasantries. She carried her shopping bag proudly – almost flaunting it to make sure it was in full view of everyone, as if to say you have nothing to worry about with me or my bag or my previous purchases or even my credentials as a spender. She sold herself by speaking with three different associates -– for her, there was no hiding or skulking around in the aisles like some common shoplifter.

With more than a dozen cameras positioned throughout the shopping environment, we caught her every move. We watched as she waited to see where the associates were positioned, biding her time to make sure two of them were occupied with other customers. We watched her use the empty boxes in her shopping bag to conceal each item she stole. We watched her leave the store with the now-full shopping bag to put the loot in her car before returning.

Who would suspect? She was nice, she looked associates in the eye, and even entrusted them with her daughter for the three minutes when she ran to her car. And what was suspicious about leaving with the same shopping bag she came in with? She was, after all, going to return to finish her shopping and get her daughter.

While our studies are typically designed to increase conversion, items per basket, or sales per square foot—we call them the "forces of good" -— we often encounter shopper behaviors like this one and work closely with our clients to diagnose the problems and prescribe solutions.

What do you think are the most immediate lessons to be learned from this woman’s caper?
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