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An Evolution in Customer Experience

Offering a standout in-store customer experience is a rapidly evolving competition between independent retailers and national or global chains.

That experience is also stacked against the convenience of online retailers. But what should differentiation, especially for small businesses, look like?

Regular employee training plays a massive part, as does constant data collection, says Russ Haswell, vice president of retail for Medallia, a firm that specializes in gathering customer and employee feedback.

Consistently using shopper feedback as a training tool is key to an experience that strengthens staff and customer loyalty, he says.

Haswell offers the following suggestions for acquiring and using feedback in an independent retail operation.

Collecting Feedback

  • Find noninvasive ways to solicit customer opinions regularly. Stores don’t have to be aggressive to collect feedback. They can ask for input using online surveys, questions embedded in e-receipts, questions that pop up on credit card readers, e-newsletters, rewards program emails and store mobile apps. A short survey can collect a lot of information without frustrating shoppers.
  • Lead off with a starter question. The most useful survey questions allow for comments. One yes or no question that is followed by a comment box can provide actionable data. A question is most effective if it unobtrusively draws in shoppers and leads them to the option to answer more questions or provide additional thoughts.
  • Ask questions to check if training is effective. A retailer who has a method for soliciting regular feedback can use surveys to check if employee training is working. For example, a one-question survey could ask customers their opinions of an employee’s product knowledge in a particular department.

Using What You Learn

  • Link feedback to specific employees. If a retailer has a way to connect shoppers’ survey responses about customer service to specific workers who served them, the data becomes valuable for individual coaching or affirmation. It also tips you off if you have a problem employee.
  • Offer feedback individually. Employees who receive customer feedback regularly are happier in their jobs, since most evaluations of specific employees tend to be positive. If staffers get regular affirmation of what they’re doing well, then criticism is less offensive and more likely to motivate change.
  • Share input with the team—daily, if possible. Many retailers who work with Medallia gather employees in staff huddles to share feedback with the entire team before the store opens for the day. Doing so provides opportunities to applaud success publicly and reinforce the company values to the whole staff.

russRuss Haswell is vice president of retail for Medallia, a company that helps businesses collect and use feedback on customer and employee experiences to improve their operations. Haswell currently oversees Medallia’s retail practice, working with a variety of retailers seeking to grow the connection between the customer, employee and brand.

About Kate Klein

Kate Klein
Kate is profiles editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. She reports on news and industry events and writes about retailers' unique contributions to the independent home improvement sector. She graduated from Cedarville University in her home state of Ohio, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and minored in creative writing. She loves being an aunt, teaching writing to kids, running, reading, farm living and, as Walt Whitman says, traveling the open road, “healthy, free, the world before me.”

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