Columnists Bob Epstein Strategies for great customer service during the holiday season

Strategies for great customer service during the holiday season

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We all know jewelry doesn’t sell itself. You don’t see store owners stacking counter tops with piles of engagement rings, worth tens of thousands of dollars, to be handled and picked over as a sales clerk stands passively by waiting for a sale.  In fact, from the moment your front door opens, it’s game on. You start selling a customer the moment he or she walks through your door. Great customer service is important at all times of the year, but during the holiday shopping season it’s particularly critical and takes some extra thought and planning.

When I travel across the country, I always make it a point to visit and “shop” in several different stores when I’m working in a particular area. It doesn’t happen often, but I have walked into a seemingly not so busy store and spent several minutes looking around without being greeted. Strike one. On occasion I’ve been greeted by a clerk who is obviously in a bad mood or out of sorts and I feel like I’m an intruder rather than a customer. Strike two. You can have an outstanding selection of merchandise at knock-out competitive prices all presented in an inviting store atmosphere, but if you fail to connect with a customer in a positive manner, if you fail to provide friendly, helpful customer service you’ll be losing sales - especially during the holidays.

So pay attention when a customer walks in your store. Tell your sales staff to put everything else aside (including their own Christmas shopping dilemmas or personal business at home with their husband or kids). The focus should be totally on your customer to extend a genuine greeting. Seems obvious, but nothing establishes a connection like a big smile, a simple, “Good afternoon... welcome to (Store Name). Can we help you find something or are you looking for something in particular?”

Even if your store is crowded, your sales team needs to work together to be sure that each customer is greeted. If you’re with another customer, take time to greet the newcomer and point them in the right direction. “You want to look at engagement rings? That’s terrific. We have a wide selection in all different styles and prices in these cases over here. Let me just finish up with Mrs. Jones here and I’ll be with you in just a minute. By the way, we have fresh coffee, tea, sodas and cookies over there in our refreshment bar. Please feel free to help yourself and look around. We’ll be with you in just a minute.”

Many retailers frown on having refreshments in the store, not wanting to clean up cookie crumbs and spilled coffee. But during the holiday season, when you’re busy and having to juggle several customers at once, having refreshments for tired holiday shoppers is a pleasant perk. And more importantly it will keep customers in your store! You can clean up a few cookie crumbs, but you can’t make up for a lost sale.

Jewelry stores typically do their peak business two weeks prior to Christmas. Men shopping for presents for wives and girlfriends are notorious procrastinators and flock to the stores all at once.  Think about your staffing needs and consider adding part-time help to these crunch days. Even an inexperienced sales person with a good demeanor, work ethic and attitude can open cases and show merchandise; when it comes to more technical questions, you and your experienced staff will be there to back them up and close the sale. If you have a large store with several seasoned sales experts, consider having part-time assistants assigned to each of these sales pros to help with gift wrapping, processing credit card payments or helping to re-stock merchandise. Let the sales assistants take some of the load off the more experienced staff members so they can sell. 

Working with customers and your sales staff during the holidays is like being an air traffic controller. You want each customer to have a good shopping experience and not feel rushed. But at the same time you want to be able to take care of everyone who walks into your store - you don’t want prospects circling your “airport” until they get frustrated and finally leave to find another store where they can “land.”

Since time management is such an important factor during the holidays, it’s important for you and your staff to be able to size up prospects quickly.  If you’re an established store, you hopefully have a base of loyal, repeat customers and you know their shopping personality, preferences and merchandise interests. As the store owner you may want to personally assist these best customers.

There will be many customers you’ve seen only a few times, or perhaps this will be their first time in your store. Here the challenge is to quickly determine what type of shopper they are.  They may be an experienced, frequent jewelry buyer.  What these customers need from you is information.  Do you have this item or designer in stock?  What is the price? Is there a discount?  Frequent shoppers want specific information delivered in a straight-forward manner.

Occasional buyers may be familiar with your store, but they need to be persuaded to buy from you rather than someone else.  What benefits do you provide that others cannot?  Here is your opportunity to emphasize the special lines that you carry.  Displays from manufacturers are also convenient ways to convey these persuasive messages to your customers. If your store prefers a particular brand, or sells a particular brand more frequently, you may choose to subtly pass this preference along to your customers by featuring a certain manufacturer’s signage.

First-time buyers have no idea what to expect when they walk into your store. They are not very familiar with products, may feel intimidated, and certainly will benefit from a staff member who will take the time to discuss their options.  What these customers need is education about your products – and your store. They also need help in comparing and contrasting products and deciding what is best for them.

Being able to quickly analyze your shoppers and sort them into these three basic customer categories will help you and your staff match up the type of customer service that is most appropriate and the end result will be an increased opportunity to make a sale. Of course, not every customer fits neatly into one of the three customer categories, but overall you should see gains in productivity and efficiency of matching your customer service to your customer requirements. 

Great customer service is important all year, but during the holiday season it is critical if you want to optimize sales and build on your base of satisfied customers.

Bob Epstein is CEO of Silverman Consultants, LLC.  Offering a legacy in sales strategies for jewelers since 1945, Silverman Consultants provides guidance to store owners seeking to turn around a business, sell off unwanted inventory, or liquidate an entire store. With offices located in Charleston, South Carolina; New York City; and Saskatoon, Canada; the company helps jewelry store owners and chains formulate strategies designed to maximize revenue in times of transition, whether due to retirement, store closing, or simply when needing a boost in sales. For more information, visit www.silvermanconsultants.com or call Bob direct at 800-347-1500.

 
 
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