Retailers: Put Yourself in Your Customer's Shoes
Do it now and do it often! Read on to learn why...
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Do any of you remember the 1970 hit song by Joe South, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes”? I won’t comment if I remember it or not, but if I did, I would tell you that the title is a great mantra for how to operate a retail business. Said differently, merchants who focus intently on empathizing with their customers (putting themselves in their customer’s shoes) have a much greater likelihood of success.
What’s my source on this stat? Me…and a whole bunch of other successful retailers I know pretty well. Thinking like your customer will lead you to make better decisions across the entirely of your business and that will result in greater guest satisfaction (remember the Ritz from last week), increased sales and higher profits.
Many retailers (including some clients) swear to me they do put themselves in their customer’s shoes and often think they are great at doing so. However, when we dig in to the reality of the situation, it’s often clear they do no such thing. They are in fact, simply substituting their points of view for what they believe their customer desires. Even when I ask basic questions like these, I often get that distant look which says “I really don’t do this” without actually saying it.
When was the last time you made a purchase from your website or one of your stores to experience the process firsthand?
When was the last time you made an unannounced visit to your stores or DC to see the operation without any “prep for the bosses visit” efforts?
When was the last time you called your customer service number (or tried your chatbot, email submission, or similar) to determine wait time, responsiveness, and quality of problem resolution?
When was the last time you read through your online reviews (Google, Amazon, Yelp, etc.) to better understand your customer’s opinions on their visits?
When was the last time you called (or otherwise engaged) some customers to ask them about their experience with your business, both good and bad?
Granted, the questions above don’t help frame out guest expectations, but they certainly create a basis for understanding the guest experience. Once you know more about the reality of what your customers experience, you can whip out the empathy and begin to improve where necessary.
This is where a solid understanding of empathy comes into play. Many confuse empathy with sympathy. Sympathy is “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
Let’s look at an example. Our customer, Liz, had placed an online order for pickup in the store. The item was was a birthday gift to be presented two days from now. When she arrived to pick it up, the order was nowhere to be found. Perhaps it was misplaced, or maybe the item was out of stock and the BOPIS system filled it in error. Regardless, Liz was not happy. Actually, she was pretty mad. “I trusted you with this order”, “it was going to be a present for my son’s birthday”, “now what am I going to do?”…you get it.
The sympathetic response might be “I am so very sorry. We messed up, but we don’t have any more of those in stock so there is nothing more I can do”. This reply does not reflect the guest’s issues as Liz needs the gift for her son. There is zero empathy here. She will lose respect for the store, probably go elsewhere to shop, and tell everyone she knows about her awful experience.
Enter the store manager, let’s call him Andy. Andy takes a different tact. He certainly apologizes and says he understands the situation we put Liz into…a pending birthday with no special gift (empathy). Instead of saying there was nothing else to be done, he did some quick checking a possible solution. That same item was in stock online. Andy offered to ship the item to Liz’s home using expedited service to arrive the next day. Andy would waive the freight fee for next day delivery, and would personally call the DC to ensure the order ships out. “Would that help resolve the issue Liz”? Liz agreed. Andy, knowing how important it is to retain existing customers, then offered Liz a $30 gift card to include with her son’s present as a small token of Andy’s appreciation of Liz’s patience with this situation and patronage overall. Andy felt Liz’s pain and reacted accordingly.
Empathy is the core to being able to plan and execute processes, procedures, offerings, standards, and training tools that will allow you to effectively put yourself into your customer’s shoes.
Don’t believe me yet about the importance of putting yourself in your customer’s shoes? Take a listen to Gary Vaynerchuk’s theory the subject:
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