Good customer service may be important for any business… but it’s critical for a small business. A good deal, a great product, a clever promotion – there’s lots of reasons why a customer might walk into your shop. But do you have an approach to your customers that will bring them back next time?

Customer service is about everyone in your shop deploying a common set of key skills and knowledge. It’s about consistency, problem solving and most of all it’s about authenticity.

So how do you know if you’re hitting the mark? And how do you ensure everyone else in the shop is on the same page? Below are some key points to consider:

  • Be cheerful, courteous and respectful – simple, but worth reiterating often.
  • Always acknowledge customers as soon as possible. Busy with something or someone else? A quick smile and a “be with you in a minute” goes a long way.
  • Open ended questions – “so what’s for dinner then?” creates conversation, rather than yes/no answers
  • Throw in something extra. Whether an actual something, or just extra advice or information on how to prepare their meal. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture – people love to walk away thinking they got more than a basic transaction.
  • Be helpful – even when there’s no immediate gain in it. Little moments matter, and these are the stories people will tell others.
  • Know your customers. Use a basic database, a loyalty system, a method of gathering information.
  • Train your staff. Work out what your customer service rules are, and make them known. Consistency is key – if you give fantastic customer service this time, but a staff member lets you down next time… the overall impression will be affected.
  • Gather feedback. Whether recording comments and conversations or a simple one-touch “how did we do today?”app, getting feedback on how happy your customers are is crucial.

So what if you’re already doing all of the above? How can you take it to the next level?

Customer Service is just one piece of a larger approach called Customer Experience. What’s the difference? Customer Service is how you treat customers throughout their visit or transaction. Customer Experience is the sum total of how a customer feels about your shop and your brand.

It includes every touch-point they have with you – from when they first hear about the shop from a friend, to when they look up your website, to the time they weren’t happy and brought something up with you (and how you dealt with it!).

By putting yourself in your customers’ shoes, you can imagine their journey and what the points that can be improved are. Are you brilliant in-store but hard to find on the internet? Is your product top quality but the layout of your shop leaves people frustrated?

Imagine an average customer, based on your area and understanding of your customers. Let’s call her Sophie. You know from experience that many customers come to you via word of mouth. After checking your website, Sophie comes into the store for a look – maybe without a specific buy in mind. She shops with you the first time and leaves. Sounds straight forward?

Let’s look at what her experience may be in more detail, and how you work out where her overall experience could be improved.

These touch-points could come from feedback you have, things you know you need to improve, or things you’ve witnessed in the shop. You can even ask a handful of customers directly.

Have an unvarnished look at what someone’s journey might be, and you’ll identify those red circles where you could make some improvements. Is your website or lack of social media presence tarnishing an otherwise good customer experience? Could reviewing staffing levels or pre-weighed/pre-packaged product help move those reds to green?

This example may not reflect your shop, your strengths or your challenges, but it serves to highlight how much more than just the transaction goes into defining a customer’s relationship with your shop.

There is no perfect template for what makes a great customer experience – your business is unique and so are your customers. What we do know though is generally people want a seamless process that is easy, want to feel valued and want to feel knowledgeable and connected.

Research into Customer Experience have highlighted some statistics that are both interesting and sobering:

  • Customers are prepared to pay, on average, a premium of 10-15% for a better customer experience.
  • When businesses get it wrong, 24% of people will leave after one bad experience.
  • A customer is 4 times more likely to buy from a competitor if the problem is service related (rather than price or product related).
  • Telling your story is as important as the product you sell. People connect emotionally with stories and experience, not product.

Customer service, and understanding the experience of your customers can really give a retail butcher the edge in a difficult retail environment. In a world of external factors, prices and things outside a business owner’s control, getting your customer service and experience right is an area where you have control and can truly affect change.