Several weeks ago we discussed the 4 steps retailers need to take in order to win against Amazon. One of those steps was educating your employees so they could provide more value to your business as well as attract and keep new customers. But how does one go about completing such a feat. That’s exactly what we will discuss today.
My girlfriend in college bought me an iguana named Grimlock. I had never owned an iguana, but it was a thoughtful gift and a great pet. Unfortunately, I didn’t know anything about owning iguanas. So I took a picture of Grimlock and went to the local specialty store (which I looked up online). While there, the staff taught me everything I needed to know. I bought over $300.00 worth of items from them that visit alone. From that point, any time I needed something for Grimlock, I shopped exclusively at Causway Pets. It never occurred to me to shop elsewhere because it was obvious to me that they cared and understood my (and Grimlock’s) needs.
Step 1: Train your staff to be a “short cut.”
I once read a fantastic book called “Be A Shortcut: The Secret Fast Track to Business Success.” The major premise of the book for me, was that everyone in the world is always looking for shortcuts. The better shortcut your business can provide, the more successful your business will become. The Author Scott Halford had enlightened me more than any other author. It just seemed so simple. He stated that we use shortcuts every day. The dry cleaner, the IT person, the plumber, the roofer, these are all great examples of short cuts. If you personally put your mind, time and money into it, you could most likely learn to do these things yourself. We rely on merchants, or experts, for shortcuts allowing us to have our needs met in the most efficient manner. So, if 20% of people that shop in your store vs. online do so because they want to touch and feel an item or would like to get expertise from one of your staff before buying, it only makes sense that your staff should be up to the challenge. Make sure while your employee is training, they are learning about your inventory, your customers, and your technology. Most importantly make sure that “Educating Customers” is a foundational principle of your business. Make a sign and place it by the register. Make a pop up for when they clock into the system every morning. Remember, if its not important to you, its not important to them.
Step 2: Use Your POS as an Educational Tool
Many point of sale now a days have the ability to have Profile Fields that you can put relevant data for your Items and Customers. This is very important to the success of taking new employees and turning them into Pet Store professionals. If your inventory is profiled correctly this can become an enormous reason for typical online shoppers to shop with you, instead of Pet Co or Chewy. Let’s use myself as an example to better illustrate what I mean. Ella is my baby girl and she is a small Chihuahua/ Jack Russel mix. If one day I come to your store while its not very busy, your employees should enter in my pet’s information into your system. Rather than having a field for each breed they could just enter Toy Breed. So, if I come in another day looking for dry dog food, they can look up my profile then search for all dry food meant for small breed dogs. I have even seen some of my clients use reviews as a profile field. This all combines to create a simple ecosystem of information and advice. This enables your employees to provide educated recommendations on food, clothes, bedding, toys, etc. This also makes your customer feel that you care about them. The ironic part of all of this, is that I know so few pet stores that provide this level of customer service, but the ones that do are very successful and their customers will not be buying from Amazon any time soon.
Step 3: Have your inventory and customers available on a mobile device
Have you ever been to a store where the employees have iPads? The ability for an employee to look up Items, substitute-items, their locations, customer history, and even their customer profiles could literally be at your employees’ fingertips. For this step I am going to do things a little differently. I want you to think about a time when you went to the store for an item and it wasn’t on the shelf where you thought it would be. Now imagine yourself looking around and you don’t see any staff that can help you. Maybe you finally find someone and ask them if they have the item. They really aren’t sure, so they must go check in the back. Even though its only been 5 minutes it feels like forever. Finally, at 10 minutes the employee returns but it’s not good news, they don’t have the item.
How did that make you feel? Look, I completely understand, this happens, and many customers are used to it, so should you just get over it? Or is this an opportunity to elevate your customer service experience?
Now I want you to picture the same scenario with just a minor change. Picture yourself getting to the isle and they don’t have the item you are looking for. There is a clerk in the lane a few feet away. You enlist their help again but, this time they have a mobile device that is connected to their POS. Without leaving your side they search for the item and see that its out of stock. This time they recommend a substitute item that actually has better reviews. They ask if you would like to start a shopping cart, maybe even check you out right then and there.
How did this experience make you feel? Which store are you most likely going to go to next time you need something for your pet?
Step 4: Have Classes or seminars for your customers
Today’s shoppers love to be educated, so educate them. By offering classes or seminars to educate your customers you will build unbreakable bonds with your clients and they will be willing to spend more money with the companies that they share those bonds with. Amazon and Chewy cannot offer pet training classes. They can’t offer grooming classes either. Now I know what your thinking, why would I offer classes for grooming if I make money from grooming. It’s simple, teach me enough for maintenance. Once you do, I’ll buy all the soaps, and clippers, and other items. In the end, I’ll still come to you for the grooming because you are a great shortcut and it takes years to get as good as you are.
I know that by doing just these 4 things you are on your way to empowering your employees to offer the best customer service by providing the best education. Don’t be afraid to experiment or think outside of the box either. Ask yourself what information you think your customers want readily available and make it so. If you would like, feel free to share your ideas with me. More than likely one of my clients have tried it before and you can learn from their mistakes.
Mark Nelms is a Business Development Manager for Pet Rewards POS. He has conducted over 400 interviews with retailers from almost every vertical and size. In prior roles he’s assisted clients like Cumberland Packaging Corporation (Sweet N’ Low), The New England Patriots, and NCR (National Cash Register.)