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Responding to Negative Consumer Feedback

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upsetcustomerCompanies dread hearing negative consumer feedback. In stores, it leads to sales representatives becoming defensive and can end up creating a negative retail environment. However, negative consumer feedback can be one of the most powerful drivers for success a retailer can experience. Negative feedback is actually quite positive.

Without negative feedback, a company may not understand why its business model does not meet consumer expectations. Retailers that address negative feedback promptly can rebuild their brands in the eyes of consumers. Here are some tips everyone can use to improve handling negative feedback.

  1. Maintain a positive attitude. In stores and especially online, anyone who represents a company brand needs to reflect a can-do attitude. While it may be tempting to become defensive or to react emotionally to certain remarks, maintaining a level head can diffuse negative situations without damaging a brand reputation. It only takes one comment or indiscretion that goes viral to destroy a brand, and even a new associate has the power to impact the overall brand image. Incentivize employees to maintain a professional demeanor and encourage positive interactions at all company levels.
  2. Remain open to change. Negative feedback can signal a flaw in company policy, product design, or retail strategy. Review each feedback instance carefully and with an open mind. If the nature of the comment makes sense, it may be time to adjust business practices or re-evaluate a value proposition.
  3. Always acknowledge the feedback. A consumer who cares enough to leave feedback rather than merely ignoring the brand opens a window of opportunity for a brand to redeem itself in both the reviewer’s mind and in the general public. Responses should be timely, professional, and personalized when possible. The level of authority a company representative has also impacts the way a response is received.
  4. Never make excuses. A company that is unwilling to acknowledge and respond to negative feedback is better off leaving the comment unanswered than making excuses for a product flaw or experience. Take ownership of the situation and address the comments in a positive light.
  5. Don’t delete negative comments in an online forum. After a negative comment has been posted online, many people may have the opportunity to see the posting before a company can remove it. Leave negative comments on a website or reviewing site and address the situation rather than sweeping it under the rug. Encourage further commentary to get to the source of the complaint.
  6. Offer solutions to individual complaints. Refunding purchase costs and offering coupons or other value-adds can go a long way toward making amends with an individual consumer complaint. Whatever a company can do to show a consumer that it is willing to go above and beyond to provide customer service will improve the brand image for that individual and the target market as a whole.
  7. Develop a strategy. Every retailer should have a game plan for handling the most common forms of negative feedback. Whether one individual has been appointed to act as the face of the company or several associates act as a team, having a structure in place to deal with negativity helps prevent surprises and empowers team members to handle situations with grace.

When it comes to negative consumer feedback, taking some form of action usually outweighs letting a situation fade into the background. Being responsive and accentuating the positive side of the company can go a long way toward rebuilding and improving a brand’s reputation after negative feedback.

Personalization in Retail Sales

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personalizationPersonalization is a key aspect of promoting sales today. Consumers expect stores to remember their purchasing history and to provide an experience that makes them feel welcome and noticed even if they’ve only minimally interacted with a brand.

Creating a personalized approach requires each company to evaluate its consumer base and identify interaction modalities that make the most sense for the company. The more a brand can personalize a consumer experience, the more likely a consumer will be to shop and become loyal to that brand.

Retail companies can no longer afford to assume old methods will deliver the same results in a market that increasingly caters to consumer response. Here are some trends to watch for and consider implementing to become more personalized in a retail approach:

  • The in-store experience. Many shoppers can find everything they need in an online environment. They go to a physical store for the experience. In stores, sales representatives who remember repeat customers and who have the ability to access purchasing history and data can offer a personalized shopping experience.
    Creating an in-store experience that carries over from other channels of interaction is one of the best ways companies can make the most of the consumer experience. Consumers have come to expect a level of personalization in the online shopping experience. Retailers who carry personalization concepts over to the in-store experience provide a higher level of interaction that is more likely to be remembered and respected by shoppers.
  • Personalized advertising. Companies that advertise online need to ensure consumers who come across their brands remember them when looking for products or services. Ad retargeting and personalized advertisements based on previously viewed items increase the time a company has in front of a consumer and influences consumer decisions about a product.
  • Investing in 3rd party consumer insight companies. Many retailers don’t have the technology or processes in place needed to gain insight into consumer behavior. Companies like The Consumer Insight offer mystery shopper services, customer surveys, and compliance audits to provide retailers with the information needed to develop a universal, personalized approach at retail stores.
  • Personalized online shopping. When consumers use online shopping sites, they expect to be able to recall purchasing histories and items they’ve previously viewed. Companies that offer added value for repeat online shoppers and who otherwise go above and beyond the general personalization expected in an online shopping experience will be remembered as providing great shopping experiences.
  • Omni-channel consistency. When one interaction medium is better at offering a personalized experience than another, the overall consumer experience can seem disjointed. Any strategy directed at personalization should include all channels of interaction with a consumer, from online shopping to email and the in-store experience.
  • Associate intelligence. Associates who have access to shopper histories are naturally able to provide better service. They can direct shoppers to viewed products they have not yet purchased and can also engage shoppers in dialogue about their current levels of satisfaction. Over time, these small interactions have the ability to improve customer loyalty and associate retention rates. The experience becomes more meaningful, rather than a sales push.

Every retailer’s personalization approach will be different based on target market expectations. Some stores are finding that offering food or drinks during the shopping process improves consumer interaction. Others find that seamless connectivity between mobile devices and the store experience makes a difference in the bottom line. Experiment with different levels of interaction to determine the best approach.

How Shared Services Models Work for Retailers and Brands

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boardroomRetail businesses include many moving parts that must work together to meet customer demand and execute the duties of the business on a daily basis. While every business department faces its own share of unique challenges, the sales department has a direct impact on the bottom line every day.

Businesses can approach their sales departments in a couple of different ways. One method is becoming increasingly popular among brands that place their products in several different retail arenas: sales outsourcing with shared services.

Outsourcing sales companies like The Retail Outsource offer a significant, bottom line driving service to retail brands. These companies use industry knowledge and training programs to place sales representatives on the floor of big box stores. The sales representative wears multiple hats and may appear to the consumer as a general store clerk but actually has the training to push certain products or services on the floor.

There are many benefits to retailers who invest in this form of sales outsourcing shared services:

  • Cost effective.  One sales representative shared across brands costs less to employ than a company employed sales person. Two retail brands can share the costs of the sales professional, who will be trained to promote both brands on the floor, creating a streamlined sales process. Developing a highly skilled sales team internally means investing in expert infrastructure to meet and exceed business objectives. By investing in an outsourcing solution, companies can bypass that costly investment completely.
  • External management. The sales service is outsourced, so individual retail companies do not have to manage the representative at a micro-level. Instead, they will interface with a representative from the outsourcing company who will provide relevant sales information and project management for their end client company. Outsourcing companies can also provide consultation and make recommendations regarding a sales environment. They are experts in sales who specialize in promoting growth and increasing revenue for their clients.
  • Efficiency/Timeliness. When a company reaches out to an outsourcing agency that manages shared services programs, they no longer have to worry about the recruiting or training process. The entire sales process is left in the hands of the outsourcing company with the retailer providing insight as needed to personalize a sales program. Turnkey services mean retailers will enjoy the benefits of the shared services model in far less time than traditional recruiting and training processes would take.
  • Expertise. Sales outsourcing companies start every relationship by understanding a retail company inside and out. They use their sales expertise to create strategies that make sense to drive sales and promote growth.
  • Meaningful data analysis. In today’s market, it is nearly impossible for companies to maintain a steady growth pattern without meaningful data analysis. Evaluating data allows companies to remove strategies that are not providing results in favor of effective strategies. Outsourcing companies that employ shared services representatives can help retailers target solutions that work strategically to improve those processes over time.

For many retail companies, the shared services solution can decrease overhead while maximizing sales. This resource effectively allows companies to enter more markets without the costs associated with traditional sales models.

Top 5 Things to Consider When Scouting a Retail Location

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Carefully selecting retail locations for your brand is integral to success. Store location largely affects brand accessibility, visibility, and overall ROI. Many companies, startups, and existing retail brands may not realize there are many resources online to expedite the process of finding a valuable retail location.

storefront3From services that do all the legwork to demographic data resources, here are some of the main considerations and resources companies can tap into when searching for great retail locations:

  1. Area demographics. Choosing a site based on appearance and proximity to company management can work occasionally, but the most successful retail locations are chosen based on demographics.A company’s product or service is usually targeted at a specific market. Look for area or location demographics that match up well with the target market for a better chance of sales. The area’s age of shoppers, income ranges, local attractions, and job sectors provide insight into whether an area will be a good candidate for a retail store. Consider these resources to learn more about demographics:
    • Census.gov. This site provides information about people, jobs, and general information about cities and states.
    • City-data.com. Some towns may not be listed through census.gov, but can be found on this website which aggregates data from a variety of sources. You’ll find information about weather and area crimes in this resource.
    • Chambers of Commerce. Look on a city’s chamber website to learn more about specific demographics and to get a feeling for the industries and people in the area.
  2. Competition. A rule of thumb for business placement is to locate a storefront in close proximity to competitors. Doing so provides opportunities for crossover marketing and beating out the competition in service, prices, and layout. Look directly at competitor locations on a map and cross reference the information with available real estate.
  3. Accessibility/Traffic. Some stores may have a great layout and sales structure, but lose out on important sales because their storefronts are difficult to access or there isn’t enough traffic through the area. Look at parking, delivery access, and the number of consumers in an area throughout the day. It may be beneficial to scope out the site in person and talk to local consumers before making decisions regarding a location.A company can learn a lot by scanning Google Maps in areas of interest for signs of heavy traffic and street views of an area. Aside from talking to individuals who know an area, the resource provides valuable information to determine the viability of a location.
  4. Regulations. Companies need to be aware of local ordinances, zoning regulations, and other area restrictions. Obstacles are much easier to address when evaluated before choosing a location. Failing to do so can delay a store opening or cause legal challenges in the location startup. Search online for “city of [insert name]” and access the local city site to learn more about local regulations and zoning restrictions.
  5. All-in-one planning services. Many startups and existing retailers are busy completing a variety of tasks from production to management. Choosing a location is a complex process that involves more than finding an attractive storefront. Full service retail outsourcing companies like The Retail Outsource provide integral consultation and launch solutions that can simplify the location startup process.

Answers to Your Most Common Sales Objections

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For many small business owners, selling doesn’t come easy. In fact, for the majority of people, making sales calls and developing air-tight pitches is stressful and challenging. While there is a certain level of natural skill and personality at play, many shortcomings can be compensated for by understanding common sales objections and how to address them.

Businessman portraitAs a salesperson, it is your responsibility to uncover what is stopping a potential client from making a purchase decision. In most cases, this means answering the following objections with clarity, understanding, and patience:

  • Price. By far, the number one sales objection has to do with price. You will frequently hear something along the lines of, “Your products cost way too much and I can get the exact same service from someone else for much cheaper.” If that is a true statement, your best option is to justify the cost of your products or services. Try breaking costs down into smaller amounts and carefully explaining what they get for each dollar.
  • Lack of authority. The second most popular sales objection is, “I’ll have to discuss this after consulting my manager/boss/partner.” If you let them walk away from the table and consult other sources, you may lose a sale. Ideally, you should tell them to invite that person in or setup a joint meeting in which you can all discuss the sale together. You can usually accomplish this by claiming you have a special deal that can only be offered and signed off on if presented directly to the CEO or manager. This usually gets you in the door and allows you to present appropriate terms or discounts.
  • Complacency. Do you ever hear potential clients mention a fear of change? It’s usually guised in a statement like, “We’ve been doing it this way for 20 years and I don’t want to risk messing it up.” The best way to kill the complacency objection is to provide ample examples of when change has been good for your business, their business, or some other well-known company.
  • Bad timing. A classic objection is, “We’re too busy to get involved with this right now. Contact me next quarter.” This is often the easiest objection to overcome – if it’s actually true. Simply light a fire under them and make the offer so compelling they can’t wait any longer. It’s amazing how much time a customer will make for you when he or she has a clear understanding of how the sale will benefit them.
  • Trust. One of the most difficult objections to overcome is trust. In many cases, a new client will want proof that you can handle their sale. You can overcome this objection by presenting case studies, testimonials, and honest answers to tough questions.

Understanding Objections

While these are five examples of common objections, it’s equally important to understand the different types of objections. According to Brian Tracy of SuccessNet Online, there are 9 different types. From unspoken and excuse driven objections to honest and subjective objections, each person has a different way of objecting. Your success as a salesperson largely depends on your ability to decipher one from the other.

5 Tips for Improving Consumer Experience

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When businesses discuss success, they often use abstract terms and generalities that few people actually understand. When it comes to the oft-thrown around term “consumer/customer experience,” do you know what it actually means? It’s only after you develop an accurate and thorough understanding of consumer experience that you can improve it in your business.

What Is Consumer Experience?

According to an article published in the Harvard Business Review, the consumer experience refers to “the customer’s end-to-end journey” with your organization. The authors of the article, in their research, found that those organizations that are able to accurately and effectively manage the entire experience “reap enormous rewards: enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue, and greater employee satisfaction.”

Tips for Improving Consumer Experience

With so much at stake, is your business doing everything it can to increase consumer experience? Here are a few ways in which you can start:

  • Honesty and transparency. Your customers are not stupid. In most instances, they know when you are being honest and when you are hiding something. When a customer asks a question you don’t know, be honest with them. Instead of making up some generic response, say, “I’m not sure, but that’s a great question. Let me find you an answer.”
  • Accept returns. Unless you are selling used products and services, a no-returns-allowed policy isn’t good for your consumer experience. When it comes to losing a customer versus losing a sale, always go with the latter. Accepting returns is a simple thing you can do to show customers you care about their purchase experience. Target offers an example of terms that typical retailers adhere to. They allow unopened items to be returned within 90 days for full reimbursement. After 90 days, unused items may be returned for store credit. While Target receives many returns, its policies have proven successful over the years.
  • Welcome customers. Walmart has found great success with hiring greeters at the front of every store. It’s a small personal touch that goes a long way in showing customers you care. Furthermore, when customers are inside, be sure to approach them and ask if they need anything, instead of forcing them to approach you. The key is to have help readily available, while not hovering over shoppers. Have your clerks and employees walk around the sales floor frequently, but don’t instruct them to bother employees unless they ask for it or appear to need it.
  • Go above the call. As a business, your practices are likely dictated by the industry you’re in. For example, most fast food restaurants offer free refills, the majority of hair salons accept tips, and grocery stores are expected to bag food items. While you certainly want to live up to industry standards, make it a habit of going above and beyond. An example of exceeding expectations as a fast food restaurant can be found by looking at popular chains like Whataburger and Chick-fil-a. Not only do these stores offer free refills, but many of them have employees walk around and get refills for customers. It’s a small touch that goes a long way.
  • Show your passion. For entrepreneurs who start businesses, the passion for what they do is almost always there. Unfortunately, not every entrepreneur visibly shows this emotion to customers for fear of appearing overzealous or unprofessional. The truth of the matter is that most consumers want passion. Show them you care about your business, your sales, and your customers.

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Consumer Experience Matters

In retail in particular, consumer experience matters. Are you paying attention to your customers and how your business treats them? The key to long-term success in the business world is securing long-lasting, professional relationships and partnerships. How well you handle consumer experience in your stores will dictate whether you are able to foster these relationships.

Common Mystery Shopping Misconceptions

What is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery shopping is the process by which businesses use a faux customer to measure, test, or analyze specific parts of the company without employees knowing that they are pre-recruited and pre-qualified. Mystery shopper are usually recruited through third-party sources and trained on how to shop, what to look for, and what to do. These shoppers are given specific details on what tasks need testing and what service level they should expect.

Often, mystery shopping involves a specific task or assignment. For example, the shopper may be asked to confront an employee about an issue and record the level of customer service they receive. This information is then compiled in a report and given to managers to see how their employees are doing in real life situations.

Myths and Misconceptions

While mystery shopping is certainly valuable and useful for many companies, there are some common myths and misconceptions floating around the internet that don’t do mystery shopping justice. Here are a few of those:

  • Mystery shopping is the primary means for measuring customer satisfaction. Mystery shopping is certainly valuable and effective, but it should not be your only form of measuring customer satisfaction. Mystery shoppers are often reporting on small, isolated events and cannot be asked to provide big picture views of total customer service. You should complement mystery shopping with surveys, studies, audits, and focus groups.
  • Mystery shopping just gets employees fired. While an extremely bad report could certainly necessitate the need for taking action against an employee, mystery shopping is not a means for firing employees. Most mystery shopping trips focus on the store environment as a whole, as opposed to a specific employee. The goal of mystery shopping is to improve your store’s performance, not justify firing a single individual.
  • My store is too small for mystery shopping. Again, this is false. Mystery shopping can take place at any business, regardless of size. The goal is to provide the manager or owner with a clear view of how customers perceive the day-to-day operations of the business. Whether you have 5 or 500 employees, mystery shopping can be of value.
  • Mystery shopping is only for restaurants and retailers. For some reason, people believe that mystery shopping is only for restaurants and retailers. This is completely false, as some of the most effective mystery shops are conducted in hotels, banks, salons, and other service industries.

The Consumer Insight

At The Consumer Insight, we are a full-service customer experience management provider that focuses on connecting clients with valuable consumer insights. We do this by providing services like mystery shopping, customer surveys, compliance audits, competitive intelligence, and instant rewards. For more information on how we can help your company improve its customer service and engagement, please contact us today.