Problem solver: Communicating with core customers best way to boost base
Q: I have a nice medium-sized retail operation. We have a loyal base of existing customers but it is not large enough to keep us going. What should we be doing?
A: I am a great advocate of first advising any company to maximise its sales from existing customers. You seem to be doing that piece well. You do, however, have to recognise that you have to be constantly 'filling up' your customer base with new customers. Many businesses mentally get 'locked within the four walls' - in other words you have a beautiful shop or café and spend all your time focusing on things internally, forgetting there may be hundreds of people passing their door on a daily basis who don't even know the business exists.
Determine who your core customers are. If you are running a café and your your core customers are those that work in the surrounding businesses, then you need to get out and engage with these people. Hand out your menus at the entrances to the office blocks on a daily basis, create an app for these workers to be able to place their order online and collect it without having to queue, run special themed events for various different employees.
Look at the surrounding landscape and use all of the tools at your disposal to communicate with these people. Digital media has made it easier, but you have to keep up to date with the constantly changing dynamics. Many businesses are now talking about the importance of video through your digital media.
I met a business owner who was running a hardware/DIY shop. He had arranged with a manager of an office block with 300 staff, to go into the staff restaurant at lunch time and put on demos using some of the home décor products. Staff were provided with a voucher to incentivise potential customers to shop with them and he also offered a discount. That is a great example of engaging with businesses on your doorstep.
I have no doubt you are doing a superb job in your business, but you don't want it to be the 'best kept secret', with those on your doorstep not knowing about it.
Q: What is the key secret to providing great customer service and training up staff?
A: There are lots of general pieces of advice I could give you, like ensuring you have a great training programme which is refreshed on an ongoing basis.
You must ensure the culture in the company is correct to create a climate for that service and of course recognise staff when they do deliver that service. Also ensure that you monitor how good your service is with tools like mystery shoppers etc.
Above all, I would say the key secret is to recruit the right person. Don't worry about the technical skills required for the job, as you can always train someone in these. If you hire a person with the right attitude and the right personality, then you are well on the way to providing great service.
We had a simple rule in Superquinn, that if someone had a great smile and personality, then the chances of us employing them were pretty high. While these people can be hard to find, it is worth holding out and getting the right people. It will cut down on the subsequent work you have to do in trying to maintain high standards, as this group tends to instinctively offer great service.
In terms of hiring the right people, it is also worth putting a little time into the person doing the recruitment if you are not doing it yourself. Are they clear on what they are looking for? Are they trained to look for personality and attitude? I have found that with some businesses, the problem lies at recruitment level where the wrong selections are being made. It is a complex area but one that is worth your company reviewing and developing a clear strategy for.