With so many businesses clamoring for the same customers' attention, it's gotten difficult for the business owner to be heard. While some lament this as a "buyer's market," in which sellers have to practically give away the store in order to attract shoppers, many have found that meaningful differentiation comes in the way you serve your customers.
Shoppers express their wants and needs and they expect to have those met—that will normally do to make for a satisfactory shopping experience. You can get noticed above the others, though, when you go just a bit farther to truly delight your customers, and effectively exceed their expectations.
Don't worry, it's not terribly difficult to go above and beyond for your shoppers, and the effort you expend will usually pay big dividends. Oh, and in the spirit of exceeding expectations, you'll find here a bonus sixth tip for how to go the extra mile with ease.
Keep your contact information easily within reach (at the top of the page, perhaps) so customers can engage with you directly whenever they choose
1. Engage, enable and empathize
Customer expectations begin the moment you greet them. Most want to be welcomed in an attentive manner but not in any sort of overbearing or disingenuous style. If they're in search of something but don't know where to find it, simple direction to set them on their way is appreciated, so long as the customer doesn't feel stalked while they're shopping. And, if they're having any sort of particular difficulty (maybe disappointment from a previous shopping experience), they'll appreciate acknowledgement of their situation and your best promise to make this experience most satisfying.
If you think the above tactics only apply to situations in a physical store, think again. Those same tenets are possible in a virtual setting. The welcome your customers receive comes in the way of your storefront's design style and message. Keep it friendly, warm, and always with a method to reach you for help (phone number or email address). Help them in their search by presenting an easy-to-navigate site with category pointers or a menu of choices.
Once they're virtually shopping, don't bombard them with "Buy Now!" demands; let them browse and shop at their leisure. And, if they need help or reassurance of any sort, keep your contact information easily within reach (at the top of the page, perhaps) so they can engage with you directly whenever they choose. When you develop this foundation of engagement with your customers, you'll be on your way to providing them a shopping experience they'll remember.
2. Be helpful without hovering
Following the greeting of your customers, your next best action is to let them know you are available to help, but only as they want. If ever you've been followed around by an overly-persistent commissioned salesperson, you know how unsettling and even invasive it can be to your shopping experience.
Surprise your customers by helping them understand your business and operation policies, and how they're intended to be of help, not harm, to your shoppers
Customers do want help at hand and, to that extent, do expect to be tracked during their shopping. Exceed their expectations, though, by allowing them freedom during their shopping, keeping within sight (or easy reach in virtual setting) without being on their heels.
3. Share but don't show off your expertise
Shoppers with interest in specific items, styles or tastes enjoy engagement with shop owners who know their stuff. There's a reassurance and even friendly relationship to be had when customers can share knowledge with an expert in their field of interest. The expertise you've developed is perfect to start a transaction with a customer, often providing information your customer will appreciate as they make a purchase decision.
Keep from going too far with your expertise, though. Some experts have been seen to heap it on, practically demeaning customers who aren't as knowledgeable and leaving them to feel as if they've been bothersome to the know-all shopkeeper. Provide your expertise, gently instruct and even give your customers resources to learn more. When you use this approach, your customers will be pleased to consider you an informative resource to whom they might turn to in the future.
4. Be fair and flexible
While overbearing customers have worn through the "customer is always right" invitation, many customers today feel as if they're at the mercy of the business owner. Too often it seems to be a one-way transaction that is weighted to favor the bringer of the goods at the expense of the prospective buyer.
Surprise your customers by helping them understand your business and operation policies, and how they're intended to be of help, not harm, to your shoppers. Then, put yourself in the customer's shoes if a slight and reasonable exception would be useful.
It's perfectly all right to explain that a transaction needs to be fair to the both of you, yet you'll exceed your customers' expectations when you show a bit of flexibility that leans in their favor. By that effort, you'll likely gain a loyal customer that would be inclined to return to buy from you again.
Think of how you'd like to be served and keep that in the forefront of your mind as your run your business
5. Follow up quickly
Whether a customer was in need of product information, status of an order placed, or curious about your next delivery of goods, be sure to provide response in a timely manner (that is, within a week's time, at most). Even if you don't have all the information they've requested, let them know that you haven't forgotten them by sending along a friendly email message or even dropping a postcard into the mail (both being excellent methods to keep your business in the forefront of their minds).
Even after you've provided the information they wanted, drop a note to your customers from time to time to see if you can be of additional service. This is an especially effective way to exceed customer expectations when they've had to sort out a problem with a purchase they've made. Let them know you're ready to serve them at any time.
6. Bonus Tip: Stop trying so hard
If the previous tips seem that they should fall within the realm of common sense for doing good business, then good for you! The fact is that exceptional customer service takes thought and deliberateness yet, when practiced best, it becomes second nature to a business owner.
If you have to work hard at serving your customers, then you're working too hard. Think of how you'd like to be served and keep that in the forefront of your mind as your run your business. When you do, excellent customer service becomes a matter of ease.