6 Hacks for Happier Customers

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A new staff training program takes aim at customer satisfaction

By Ray Keener

My ex-wife always hated shopping with me. Every store visit was a test of her patience as I exhaustively analyzed every single interaction. Was I greeted properly, did they ask the right questions, did they try to close me and meet my objections?

I felt kinda bad about being so critical—until I asked a bunch of shop owners if they did the same thing. Of course they did, because all retailers know what good and bad retail looks like! The challenge is creating a uniform version of that “good retail” experience in your own store. My attempt to help retailers do that, the Selling Cycling program, had 2,000 stores on board around the globe during its 1996-2012 timeframe.

Interviewing retailers, my first question was always, “What is your dream outcome from staff training?” The most common answer was, “To walk through my store and hear my staff say the same things to my customers that I would say if I could help everyone myself.”

To be sure, any kind of training can move a store in that direction, but the challenges are daunting. First, owners are generally older and more experienced than staffers. And, second, owners have a financial stake in happy customers, whereas staff (with the rare exception of commissioned salespeople) do not. Third, while owners may be great at sales, few are great at training. Fourth, resources to help them train are scarce.

And getting even more scarce over the last handful of years, as manufacturers focus their retail training programs and training time more and more on the technical—product features and benefits—and less and less on sales and customer service tactics. The training that is available to retailers, and in many cases forced on them, is paid for and created by the suppliers, whose message might be adequately summed up as “Our shit is better than their shit, so sell our shit.”

There’s nothing wrong with this, in theory. Well, actually, yes there is, two major drawbacks. First, the more time that’s spent on training for tech and product, the less time remains for customer interaction training. Second, the face of the typical bike shop customer is slowly changing—from people who look like your staff (helmet strap tan, bulging quads and calves) to regular folks looking to start riding, or get back into it again.

Certainly, the industry-wide 30% decline in floor traffic isn’t due to a decline in bike riding. The most conservative data we have to examine (NSGA participation stats) show a slight increase in bike usage in 2016, the latest year measured. Without belaboring the obvious, it’s the loss of Enthusiast shoppers to “other channels” (do I even need to say the Internet?) that’s contributing to the decline of traffic and sales.

Which begs the question: Why do we continue to train for tech, and ignore improving interactions when market forces are crying out for just the opposite approach?

There are two reasons—a combination of force of habit and wishful thinking (although, to me, anyone who expects current trends to reverse is only kidding themselves), plus an alarming lack of not just effective, but ANY resources to improve interactions.

Selling Cycling was rendered extinct by free tech training, its use dictated by suppliers. And only our industry’s leading brand is making any effort to create sales and service training that complements the “our shit is better” approach. The Mann Group offers a couple of options—face-to-face, in-store GEAR trainings, and a subscription-based virtual GEAR Online course.

Now there’s a new, low-cost training course developed by a partnership between my company (Growth Cycle), The Mann Group and Myagi, a San Francisco-based training platform (with roots in Australia) with over 16,000 retail clients and more than 120 brands—including many bike suppliers such as Santa Cruz, Orbea and Saris—on-board.

Our program is called CST, Customer Satisfaction Training. The principle is that there are three things customers want from their store experience: Attention, Respect and Expertise.

Your staff, by both training and inclination, think that Expertise is most important, but those rail trail riders, new commuters, family pedalers, and e-bike buyers—the future lifeblood of your businesses—already assume you have more than adequate Expertise. You’re a bike shop, after all.

That leaves Attention and Respect. That’s what we’re working toward with the CST program, which consists of 20 one-to-two-minute human interaction training videos that are designed to leave customers walking out of your store thinking, “Gee, that was great, I’ll come back here, for sure!”

Click here for more details on the CST program, and to view a couple of sample videos: Customer Satisfaction Training


Super Human Interactions

6 quick tips from Customer Satisfaction Training

SHOP PROCEDURES

• Promote positive social media reviews: If you, or the store in general, have a positive interaction with a customer, ask them to give a thumbs-up on Yelp or wherever—preferably with a smile.

• “Would you like to get it today?”: Don't leave it to the customer to tell you they want to buy what you’re selling—ask them! If they say no, find out why.

• Steering online shoppers: Don’t give up on customers who clearly know their online options. Make a friendly, respectful case for buying from your shop. You at least have to try.

HUMAN INTERACTION

• Calibrate the tech-speak: Ask a question or two—“How much tech do you know, and how much do you want?” “What research have you done?”—to get a feel for the customer's knowledge level before you start presenting bikes or products.

• Talk to customers, not to each other: There’s a time and place for engaging in conversation with fellow staffers. When you’re on the floor and customers are in the store is not that time.

• Manners matter: Customers appreciate the all-too-rare-in-modern-retail basic courtesies. Say “Thank you!” and, whenever necessary, “I’m sorry.”

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