Monday, March 26, 2012

Leveraging the Indie Store Advantage: A Unique Customer Experience

Hi Booksellers,

By now, you’ve probably seen the remarkable interview between author Ann Patchett and Steve Colbert on The Colbert Report.

In the interview, Patchett, who recently opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, articulates the importance of independent stores and the unique experience it offers to customers, authors, and the community.

What a great reminder of what drives people to their local bookshop! No website can truly replicate the brick-and-mortar shopping experience — the smell of aging books, the sounds of soft music and hushed voices, and authentic human interaction.

One way to leverage this advantage is through customer service. While not exactly cutting-edge, this time-tested business tactic is still hailed as remarkably effective in today’s marketplace. A friendly, flesh-and-blood person offering insightful recommendations can be quite powerful. 

This article from Bloomberg Businessweek offers a refresher on customer service basics, specifically:
  • Emphasize hellos and goodbyes.
  • Train greeters.
  • Speed order fulfillment.
  • Hire selectively.
  • Get the language right.
  • Develop a system to make each customer feel that employees care.
You can read the full article for complete insight on these tips.

Here are a few more ways to connect with customers, maximize your unique product knowledge, and deliver a unique, rewarding experience that will encourage repeat business from a growing circle of devoted regulars.

Greet Everyone
A quick hello sends a welcoming message to customers and engages them right away. It will make them feel accepted and comfortable, especially if it’s their first time in your store. It’s also a great lead-in to the next tenet of customer service: asking open-ended questions.

“Is There Anything I Can Help You with Today?” 
When I’m in a hurry, it’s a relief to get quick assistance. A gentle, open-ended question opens the door to a one-on-one interaction that could turn into a lengthy conversation about your customer’s interests, a hand-selling opportunity, or a chance to share your knowledge and expertise.

Build a Rapport
Building a relationship is key to earning customer loyalty. Make an effort to know your customers and their interests. Take the time to have a conversation. Ask for feedback. Keep the connection alive by inviting them to sign up for alerts on sales, promotions, and events.

Of course, customer service is just the tip of iceberg when it comes to creating a unique and satisfying experience for customers. We'd love to hear your ideas!

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