Close The Door On Poor Customer Service
Over the past few months, I've had a number of calls from owners who are experiencing two symptoms of the same problem.
- They are having difficulty implementing the customer driven UPS system that I wrote about in a previous article.
- They are unable to hold their sales people accountable for the closing rate in their stores because they are unable to effectively measure closing rate.
In most cases, both issues stem from the same cause: multiple store entrances.
Before I address entrances, however, it is important to discuss the impact of these symptoms on customer service. Multiple entrances severely impair your ability to implement an effective customer-driven UPs system. This translates into the lack of, or at the very best, produces an ineffective, system for ensuring that your customers are greeted in a proper and timely manner. Without a properly executed UPs system, it is impossible to say that one sales person (the individual who is at the top of the up list) is charged with the care and concern of the very next customer who enters the store.
Multiple entrances also make it virtually impossible to maintain accurate traffic counts. Inaccurate traffic counts make it extremely difficult for you to staff the sales floor properly (Furniture World 9/95), to hold sales people accountable for closing rate, and to develop goals for sales people relative to their closing rates. All of these activities are key to ensuring that your sales people are performing at peak levels. Therefore, if you are unable to accurately count traffic, your store probably isn't achieving its peak performance.
Two other problems are related to multiple entrances relative to your store's ability to serve its customers.
- Customers perceive that they're being avoided or ignored. When customers enter the store, if sales people don't actually see them walk through the door, they often assume these people were greeted by someone else and don't approach them. In many cases these customers were greeted by no one. Oddly enough this can happen just as easily on a slow day as on very busy days like weekends. In fact, customers are even more likely to be missed on slow days.
- Customers seem to be sales person magnets. This second situation is the exact opposite of the one where customers feel ignored. They enter the store and, because no one knows if they've been greeted, everyone seems to approach them one-after-another. Although sales people are simply trying to do their best to make sure that each customer has at least been greeted... the second, third or fourth greeting, often has a negative effect. We've all seen customers wheeling around angrily after being greeted the fourth time, declaring that yes they have been greeted. The inability to know who's been greeted and who has not evokes negative feelings within customers who have not even begun the sales process.
Both situations can be extremely irritating and potentially harmful. I was in a store last week where a minority customer had been not greeted for the longest time. When one of the sales people did finally approach him he said sternly, "Well you certainly can't help me now!" On his way out, he was overheard remarking how he felt he had been racially discriminated against. Knowing the owner and the sales people of this store, I know that nothing could be further from the truth. The system simply failed. Multiple doors caused sales people in the store to walk by this customer assuming someone else was assisting him.
All big ticket retailers (e.g. automotive, furniture, real estate developments with an on-site sales office, and even jewelry stores) recognize that that customers require a selling effort and must be given the courtesy of a personal greeting to begin the selling process. This is not the case in small ticket stores like drug stores or grocery stores. Higher end department stores do emphasize a personal greeting in departments where big ticket items are sold. Wal-Mart has even taken it a step further. Although it's a small ticket mass merchant for the most part, every customer is personally greeted by an employee hired specifically for that purpose... a greeter. This should clearly validate the critical importance of a personal greeting in a big ticket retail environment such as a furniture store.
One final concern about multiple entrances is the fact that they create a serious display problem. It is very difficult to place your best goods in front of more than one primary entrance. Faced with this problem, many owners simply concentrate on one. Often secondary entrances are located in remote areas of the store. These are typically the poorest displayed areas and, at the very least, do not leave the high impact initial impression we desire. The result is that you are unable to make your most effective first impression for every customer your advertising dollar brought into the store. You never get a second opportunity to make a great first impression.THE CAUSES OF MULTIPLE ENTRANCES
- The initial setup of a store.
- An expansion of the store.
- A remodeling of the store which often includes a factory gallery or pseudo-freestanding store.
Initial Setup- These days nobody would design and build a brand new retail home furnishing store with multiple entrances. On the other hand, when buying or leasing a building, many owners have to make compromises due to desirable occupancy costs or site location. They often chose facilities that, although they've already been built, are not what the store owner would have preferred had he or she built the store from scratch.
Expansion- Because many retail home furnishing stores are located in fully matured areas, expansion of floor display space is sometimes difficult. Expansions can often yield less than ideal solutions, such as multiple floors or expanding to areas where additional parking becomes available. The latter typically occurs when taking over an adjacent store. In doing so, owners inherit a second entrance. Once again, inherent construction or architectural issues force retailers into a second entrance.
Gallery Remodeling- This is a growing segment of the retail home furnishings marketplace. Many furniture factories have developed freestanding store concepts that sell only their own merchandise. Ideally these factories go into a marketplace and convince a retailer to build a freestanding store which carries their product exclusively. In their efforts to acquire square footage, through negotiations, factories will sometimes compromise their concept. In many cases they agree to let the retailer add a new section to their existing store or convert a portion of their store into what now becomes a pseudo-freestanding unit. In order to make these expansion galleries as close as possible to freestanding stores, factories will require the retailer to provide a separate entrance for their particular area of the store. Then, to showcase the company name, the factory requires a very visible sign with its name over the gallery entrance.
The problem with this strategy is that most of these pseudo-freestanding galleries allow customer access through the gallery into the main store, thus creating two (or more) entrances. Sales people generally sell in both sections because it's virtually impossible to establish a dedicated sales force for an area that is not sealed off. When retailers have tried this, it has only caused problems. Sales people can end up having to drop customers as they move from one section of the store to another where they are not supposed to be selling. This upsets the selling process and prevents a continuous relationship with clients.
In all three of the above situations, although many compromises are being made, the biggest is in service to customers entering the store. It is absolutely impossible for your customers to receive a high level of service when they have access to multiple entrances.
I was in a store recently with six entrances. I recommended that the owner permanently close five of them. Fortunately, the majority of the parking was available from the one entrance I suggested he leave open. The owner's response, however, was that he was not going to entertain any advice that would make it difficult for his customers to shop his store.
It is true that in retailing we need to make it as easy as possible for our customers to do business with us. However, when this results in customers either not being greeted or being greeted multiple times, the benefit of access is overwhelmed by the importance ensuring that every customer gets the right level of customer service. Would you rather save your customers a few steps or eliminate the perception that they are being ignored or repeatedly greeted?CLOSING ENTRANCES
Most owners of multiple entrance stores tell me that there is no way to close off their secondary doors. I have yet to see a store that could not be slimmed down to a single entrance. The argument owners typically give me is that they don't want to inconvenience or anger customers in any way by making them park at one entrance... walk up to the door... find that they can't get into the store that way... and have to drive or walk to the main entrance - especially in inclement weather! I completely support this argument. It would make customers angry. However, I'm not simply talking about locking usable entrances. The building must be changed so the doors are not perceived to exist.
Customers should never be given the option of rattling a locked door. The area should be redesigned so they won't even attempt to enter via those doors. This can be accomplished many ways. The most effective is to remove the doors altogether and replace them with building materials or windows. In the case of fire exits, you should use significant signage in the parking area communicating that these are fire exits only. Another option is to camouflage doors with plants, signage or merchandise. There are countless ways to eliminate the perception of an entrance. Sometimes you just need creativity.
When it comes to parking, the situation does not appear as easy to solve for some stores. This is typically the case with older stores that have a single row of parking in the front and the majority of spaces in the rear of the facility. The problem is that owners don't know how to stop people from parking at the front of the building. With this configuration, they are absolutely right. They can not shut the front door and close it off. These entrances often look grand and very inviting from the street.
There is a solution. Simply remove the parking spaces that attract customers to the front entrance! This is best accomplished by curbing off and planting grass in the parking area (see exhibit) or using it as outdoor display space (e.g. for outdoor furniture during the summertime). It can also be a wonderful location for outdoor promotional events. Whatever the area is converted into, the key is to remove the parking places. It is as simple as that. Then, with signage, divert the customers to the back so they understand exactly where to enter the building. Finally, if you have a grand entrance at the front, you can do many things to tone that down, then build an even grander entrance in the back.
This type of construction is often avoided or not considered due to the expense. In most cases, however, the expense of building reconstruction or parking lot re-configuration comes nowhere near the expense of not having the systems in place to ensure that customers are properly cared for.
Simply remove parking spaces that attract customers to the front entrance! This is best accomplished by curbing off and planting grass in the parking area or using it for outdoor display.
Ted Shepherd is the founder and CEO of Shepherd Management Group. The company specializes in changing the selling culture of furniture stores from merchandise-driven to customer-driven using an intensive hands-on process of consulting, training, and mentoring. For more information on the topics in this article contact firstname.lastname@example.org.