Optimizing In-Store Customer Service During The Holiday Shopping Season

Black Friday is days away and retailers are arming store associates with excess inventory to satisfy shoppers looking for the best buy. While merchandising is vital for a successful holiday season, customer service and the overall in-store experience has a severe affect on whether shoppers will return to stores once sales are complete.

In this Q&A, customer service and sales training expert Laurie Brown highlights key takeaways from her newest book, The Greet Your Customer Manual. Brown also presents tips and best practices for store managers to create a memorable and customer-friendly Black Friday and beyond.

Retail TouchPoints: How does your newest work, The Greet Your Customer Manual, act as a how-to guide for retailers looking to optimize the in-store experience?


Brown: I wanted the book to be a reference for businesses to help them understand how important the beginning moments of the shopping experience. Consumers have more power than ever before through new technology such as the Internet and smartphones, which has changed the retail world. For example, at one time, if a shopper experienced poor customer service, they would have to go back, simply because they had fewer options. Today, with the powers of the web and mobile, you don’t even have to leave your home to get what you need.

RTP: With the continual penetration of Internet and mobile purchases, how vital is customer-to-associate interaction to retailer success?

Brown: In my experience, and in speaking with other consumers, those first five minutes you experience in a place of business can make or break a shopper’s relationship with a retailer. “People have an abundance of patience but no tolerance for being ignored.” That quote is really true: if sales associates acknowledge a customer and say they’ll be right, that’s fine. But when customers are ignored, that’s a personal issue that can turn them off.

RTP: What effect does social media have on the in-store experience?

Brown: With social media, customers now have more arenas in which to share their opinions; If they have a poor customer experience they can go on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ and tell their friends about it. Then you have a tsunami of negativity, which can really hurt a business.

RTP: During the holidays, people seem to treasure the in-store experience. With Black Friday acting as the “ignition” to the holiday shopping season, what can retailers do to excel in terms of customer service?

Brown: It’s all about human interaction. One of the main problems with Black Friday, especially with it acting as the kick-off to the holiday season, is that retailers are offering people a deep discount, so everybody comes in-store for cheap deals. Retailers may capture that one-time buy, but poor customer experience won’t get shoppers to return. An even worse scenario is if you have loyal customers coming in on Black Friday and they’re turned off because associates are over-loaded and managers haven’t taken the correct measures to make sure that a loyal shopper’s experience is special.

RTP: What are some general best practices to make sure store employees are engaged in the holiday shopping experience?

Brown: Here are two basic yet powerful ideas retailers can implement easily:

-Feed Your Employees: This applies both physically and emotionally. During the holidays, it’s not just longer hours that can cause issues with employees; they also have to deal with more and crabbier people. There are all sorts of stress factors weighing on employees during this time of the year. If I was a store manager, the first thing I would do is take care of my people. This could be as simple as offering food and drinks at the place of business so employees are hydrated, energized and feel valued.

-Compliment Your Employees: Be sure to catch your employees doing the right things, especially during Black Friday. After all, you can’t go wrong in showing your employees that you appreciate their hard work.

RTP: Most retailers are focused on the power of the in-store experience. Are there any best practices in terms of customer training and preparation for Black Friday and the holiday season?

Brown: An associate’s goal should be to make customers feel like welcome guests. That means greeting them immediately, even if the associate is with other customers. A simple nod or smile and a “Be with you in a moment,” goes a long way. The other trick is for employees to understand that their paycheck isn’t coming from their boss, but from every shopper that walks into a store location: if shoppers are not happy with associate performance, they will make it a point to reach out to management. Employees will treat customers much better if they’re viewed as part of the paycheck, not just another person to serve.

It’s also important to note that managers can’t just train associates the day before Black Friday and be successful; they must start training early so employees are empowered to solve problems of all types. In terms of customer experience, managers also can incorporate enjoyable, in-store events and giveaways that create engaging, memorable experiences, such as hosting customer VIP holiday parties, giving out candy and mini prizes, etc.

RTP: What is the top factor lacking in the area of customer service? How can managers solve that issue?

Brown: Acknowledging customers and interacting with them on a one-to-one basis are both very important. Customer service doesn’t need to entail big, grand gestures ― it really comes down to small, personal acts of kindness, such as seeing something a customer might need and offering it before they ask.

Laurie Brown is a coach, speaker, and author with more than 20 years of experience helping individuals, associations and companies improve their sales, customer service, leadership and presentation skills.

Brown has an international clientele, having worked on four continents and in numerous countries including Australia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Panama, the U.K., Thailand, and throughout North America. Brown has worked with companies of all company sizes, including Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and small family-owned businesses. She also is the author of the books The Greet Your Customer Manual, The Teleprompter Manual and Brand-aid.

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