How to Deliver a Satisfying Shopping Experience
Retailers should be able to recognize customer satisfaction levels, and adjust to meet the needs of customers.
Customers are satisfied when their experiences in your store meet or exceed their expectations. Expectations may be different for different shoppers—or even for the same customer on different shopping trips. Some will tell you if they’re unhappy; others simply won’t come back.
Helping your associates recognize how even little things can lead to dissatisfied shoppers builds customer loyalty and prevents lost business. Encourage team members to help create satisfying shopping experiences by providing perfect products, friendly service and timely delivery, and using support systems to resolve issues.
Why Customer Satisfaction Matters
Customers are satisfied when your store meets their minimum expectations and dissatisfied when they aren’t met. For example:
• A customer is impressed by how clean and uncluttered your store is.
• A customer is disappointed because your store doesn’t carry the product she wants.
• A customer is thrilled to discover that your store carries fresh-baked doggie cookies.
• A customer is angry because he was ignored by sales associates.
Satisfaction influences buyers’ behavior and lays the groundwork for customer loyalty. A satisfied customer will likely shop at your store again and tell others about their good experience. A dissatisfied customer will think twice before returning to your store.
What Customer Satisfaction Looks Like
Customer satisfaction starts with customer expectations. Customers expect your pet store to look a certain way. They expect sales associates to act in certain ways. They have expectations about your store’s products and prices, as well as how transactions will be handled.
Every time they shop in your store, your customers evaluate the experience against their expectations. Often, they may not even be aware of this internal evaluation until something triggers an emotional response.
Every shopper has had unique experiences and values different things. As a result, satisfaction can look very different from customer to customer. Satisfaction can also change for the same customer, since their expectations may vary depending on the purpose of their shopping trip.
Varying customers’ expectations and experiences can result in very different satisfaction levels. Unfortunately, dissatisfied customers don’t always complain in the store, so associates may not even realize that they are unhappy. Instead, they may complain to friends or on social media,
as they compare their experience in your store to other, more satisfying shopping trips at a competitor’s store.
Even if customers are satisfied with most aspects of their shopping experience, they still may shop around because of little things at your store that went unnoticed or unresolved. One thing is certain: continued dissatisfaction leads to a loss of trust—and, ultimately, lost business.
Elements of Customer Satisfaction
A great shopping experience includes exceptional customer service from the moment shoppers enter your store until they leave. Experts generally agree that customers are satisfied when they consistently receive perfect products, friendly service, timely delivery and support systems. These four items define the minimum expectations that you must meet to achieve customer satisfaction.
In this context, timely delivery means that products and services are available in the store when the customer needs and wants them and that in-home delivery and services are on time. Support systems are your store’s policies and procedures to resolve shoppers’ issues when things go wrong or fall short of customer expectations.
Customers expect to buy new products and often assume that dusty or damaged merchandise is old and out of date. Shoppers also expect products to be in perfect condition and working order. Nothing annoys customers more than getting home and discovering that their purchase is damaged or doesn’t work.
Customers expect animals in your store to be healthy and well cared for, whether they are store pets or available for adoption or purchase. Remind associates that keeping enclosures and pets clean communicates that your store cares about the animals you sell.
Customers expect your employees to be recognizable, neat and clean. Explain to your associates that when they are out of uniform or look messy, customers may have doubts about their ability to answer questions and may not ask for help.
When customers walk into your store, they expect a relaxed, pet-friendly atmosphere and employees who can provide knowledgeable advice. The first step for team members to meet your customers’ minimum service expectations is to be friendly and thoughtful. For example:
• Smile and say, “Hello.”
• Offer to help find a product, bring the customer a basket or carry a heavy purchase to their car.
• Satisfied customers will say, “I want to go to Pete’s Pet Palace because I trust them and they are such nice people.”
Encourage your associates to take the initiative to communicate, ask questions and share ideas. Offering relevant suggestions, like an additional, alternative or sale product, enhances customer satisfaction by saving shoppers time, minimizing inconvenience, reminding buyers of something that they may have otherwise forgotten and helping them save money.
Customers expect your store to have what they came in to buy. Shoppers are understandably disappointed if they want a particular product or brand and your store is out of stock or doesn’t carry it. Keeping shelves fully and neatly stocked is an important part of associates’ jobs.
Shoppers expect products to be easy to find. Your store should be logically laid out, include good signage to direct customers to what they need, and have products where they are supposed to. Your sales associates should keep shelves filled and move products that are in the wrong place back to where they belong.
Customers expect sales associates to be available when they need help. No one likes to wait or be forced to search for someone to help find a product or answer a question. Remind associates to greet customers throughout the store so shoppers know your team is eager to assist.
When waiting is inevitable, encourage associates to acknowledge the situation. Recognizing waiting customers by making eye contact, apologizing for the wait, thanking them for being patient and letting them know that someone will be with them as soon as possible can all help make waiting situations less frustrating.
If your store offers home delivery or in-home services like aquarium set-up, customers expect them to occur at the scheduled time. Help associates understand that when a delivery or service person is late, particularly without advance notice, buyers will be frustrated and dissatisfied.
Customers expect your store to respond quickly when things go wrong or fall short of their expectations. Pet stores that deliver excellent customer service have support systems in the form of policies and procedures that cover the most common problems.
For example, your store’s policies and procedures may direct associates to:
• Offer a rain check when an advertised product is out of stock.
• Give a store credit without manager approval when a customer returns an inexpensive product without a receipt.
• Call another associate to open a second register once there are four customers waiting in line to check out.
Make sure that your associates are able to deal with these situations by providing each employee with a written copy of store policies and procedures, and discussing them regularly at staff meetings. Be sure to follow-up with new associates to see if they have questions.
Recognizing Potential Problems
Your store probably has policies and procedures in place to make sure associates are meeting shoppers’ minimum expectations. But it’s impossible for written rules and guidelines to cover every possible customer interaction.
Successful sales associates are sensitive to customers’ non-verbal signals and take steps to proactively address any issues.
Encourage your team to:
• Pay close attention to customers’ body language, which may indicate that they are irritated or impatient.
• Watch customers’ facial expressions for frowns, clenched jaws or eye rolls, which may indicate that they are dissatisfied.
• Listen to customers’ phrasing (what they say) and tone (how they say it), which may indicate that they are disappointed.
Customer satisfaction starts with customer expectations. What each shopper expects is based on their ideal shopping experience, as well as their previous experiences in your store and at other retailers. Your associates can help create loyal customers by providing perfect products, friendly service and timely delivery, and by using your store’s support systems to solve problems quickly.
Stephanie A. Kaplan is the director of online education for the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA). She manages PIDA’s free online training program, Pet Store Pro. Since it was first launched in 2008, over 6,500 retailers have turned to Pet Store Pro for brand-neutral training on critical skills for associates, managers and owners. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers.
This article was adapted from “Customer Satisfaction,” one of 29 chapters available as part of Pet Store Pro’s online training. Lessons cover why customer satisfaction matters, what customer satisfaction looks like, the elements of customer satisfaction and how to solve problems when things go wrong. The chapter also includes a downloadable workbook with activities and role-play scenarios.