Living up to customer expectations can prove to be a heavy load for any retailer to bear. That truth hits harder when you consider the many different types of shoppers who shop at your store. They all have different demands. But that is the nature of retail. And you need to keep your customers happy and satisfied.
Of course, it’s not always easy to do that. Work in retail long enough, and you’ll have seen customers quickly lose the true meaning of customer service and mistake it for the idea that you should wait on them hand and foot.
That said, it's up to you to train your staff and equip them with the necessary resources to handle such situations.
What is fair when it comes to meeting customer expectations?
When a customer walks into your store, they’re doing so with clear intent and an idea of what they need. There are definite expectations on their part. What makes such situations harder, though, is that your customer’s expectations are higher than ever before.
As for whether it’s fair or not for customers to walk into your store and expect you to cater for their every whim, that’s debatable. As we’ve already mentioned, it can result in uncomfortable situations. What is the standard procedure? You can’t just say ‘no’ and walk off.
That said, there are a few factors that can guide you here. Just to note, this isn’t a hard and fast rule so much as it’s a guideline. When it comes to meeting and exceeding customer expectations, it’s more of a grey area, as you should take each situation on a case-by-case basis.
Firstly, the expectation needs to match the type of retailer. For example, if a customer is unhappy about not finding a product that you should stock, that’s perfectly reasonable. Fortunately, it is also easy enough to correct by either ordering more stock or re-evaluating your replenishment engine.
Secondly, it has to be something that you can control. For example, you can control the cleanliness of your store, your layout and the presentation of your products to your customers. On the other hand, while you can plan for if/when your supply chain breaks because it’s on the operations side of the inventory management process, you won’t have full control of it.
A lack of parking is another unreasonable expectation that you can’t control. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a customer complaining about it.
What are the consequences of failing to live up to your customer’s expectations?
Considering the importance of managing how your customers perceive your store, there shouldn’t be any argument about not living up to their expectations.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be perfect all the time. Mistakes can happen, which will frustrate shoppers who enter your store. But customers will also cut you slack if they see you are making an effort to help them. The problem comes in when they can see that you don’t take them seriously. If that’s the case, you can expect to bear the brunt of their dissatisfaction.
For one, they won’t come back to shop your store, which means you’ll have no repeat customers. The fact that it costs you more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer happy should have you worried.
Something else to worry about is the knock-on effect of a customer not returning. It’s not only about lost revenue. Instead, it has to do with what that one unhappy customer can do to your business's bottom line. It’s known as the compound effect. They’ll spread the word about their bad experience, and before you know it, that one unhappy customer turns into three, four or ten.
That said, they won’t only complain to their friends and family. They’ll take it to the next level. For example, a customer may be unhappy because your store failed to deliver on promotional expectations. A promotion was poorly communicated, and there were next to no staff to assist the customer in clarifying how the promotion worked. As a result, that customer might take it directly to your Head Office. It’s been known to happen. And your Head Office places you under close surveillance.
If that isn’t the first time that there has been a complaint about your store, you’ll quickly find more customers drop you in favour of your competition. Since there are so many options available to your customers, they’ll soon find a store that can cater to their expectations.
How can your store exceed the expectations of your customers?
1. Focus on exceptional customer service
There are no two ways about it. If you want to live up to customer expectations, you need to focus on customer service. By ‘focus’, we mean you should put just as much effort into perfecting it as you would into stocking the right products.
In fact, for some retailers, we’d even argue that your customer service is slightly more important than your product assortment. That’s because your competitor could stock the same products as you. The only differentiator might be the attention you pay to your customers. Just to note, this is mainly dependent on who your customers are and why they shop in your stores.
For example, your higher LSM might be swayed more by the level of customer service rather than the price. Meanwhile, your lower LSM will be looking at price or product assortment first. That’s not to say that one retailer should focus on customer service more than the other, though. Regardless of your target market, you need to consider your customers first.
One way of placing your customer first is to include a personalised touch. Not sure how to do that? Think about how you would want to be treated when you go shopping. Then think about ways in which you can achieve that in your store.
Another way is to ensure there are always staff ready to assist where possible. More importantly, they have all the information necessary to help the customer make an informed decision.
If you’re looking at more ways to meet and exceed customer expectations through customer service, here are a few ways you can do that.
2. Choose a store layout that makes sense to your customers
As we mentioned in a previous piece, a well-designed store can both maximise customer experience and minimise customer irritations. More than that, it can go a long way to meeting their expectations.
How so? Let’s take a macro view of your store to explain. When building your store floor plan, you should consider each of your categories and their overall performance. By doing this, you can ensure that they all get the correct amount of space. That means that you’re meeting customer demand head-on, providing them with what they want and when they want it.
More than that, by taking this big picture view, you can also look at whether or not the layout makes sense to your shopper.
For example, if your store has both a Gardening category and a Deodorants category, you wouldn’t place them next to each other. Instead, you’d put your Gardening category next to your Hardware category. Remember, this is about ensuring a pleasant shopping experience. The last thing you’d want is a customer walking out in frustration. That’s more likely to happen if the categories that are placed side by side don’t make sense.
If you’re looking to build the perfect store floor plan, it’s worth reading this piece.
Of course, building a floor plan isn’t just for your customers. It’s just as crucial for you since it can mean the difference between making more sales (through increased basket sizes) and wasting the space in your store.
3. Stock the right assortment of products for your target market
Have you ever walked into a store in search of a particular product only to find that the product is either out of stock or the store doesn’t stock it at all? Of course, you have. And you’ll know it’s frustrating. In fact, it's enough to prevent you from returning.
Now consider the average shopper who is walking into your store. It doesn’t matter if you have the perfect store layout if the products on your shelves don’t meet the needs or demands of your customers.
To meet their expectations, you should consider localising your product assortment. Having the right stock at the right time and the right price for your customers is a surefire way to meet and exceed their needs and expectations.
You could go even further by using cross-merchandising as a tactic. Merchandising products outside of their primary category as a secondary display can increase the basket size of your customers. More importantly, it can lead to a better overall shopping experience.