In retail, the concept of customer satisfaction gets a lot of attention. We have seminars, books and websites all dedicated to helping us reach “higher levels” of customer satisfaction. We often hear of a company’s “customer satisfaction rating,” and spend time trying to quantify the concept. Certainly, there are plenty of businesses advertising their “high customer satisfaction rating,” whatever that means. Because of this, many of us focus our training efforts around achieving a goal of 100-percent customer satisfaction. I will never argue that this isn’t important. Of course it is. Certainly, none of us hop out of bed in the morning with the thought, “Gee, I hope we satisfy some of our customers today!” To me, though, satisfying our customers is just the first step toward what should be our ultimate goal: customer loyalty.

Here is an example of what I mean. A local musician needs a set of guitar strings. Though she has never previously been to your store, she stops in because it’s nearby. Your staff helps this customer get the right strings at a fair price, and handles the purchase with friendly good service. Was this customer satisfied with the purchase? Sure. Would she go back to your store the next time she needed something? Well, maybe. So, if satisfying your customer does not guarantee she will continue to shop at your store, what more can you do to increase the chances of earning repeat business? You can develop training for your staff that incorporates values and ideas that build relationships, engender trust and focus on earning long-term loyalty. Training your coworkers in loyalty building will differentiate you from your well-run competition, and create an army of unpaid advocates for your business.

The best place to begin is to introduce the concept of building trust. This involves instruction to perform what are considered obvious tasks, but also those that seem contrary to sales training we’ve received over the course of our careers. Concepts like honesty and keeping promises should go hand in hand with learning how to deliver bad news or correcting a customer’s misconceptions about a product. Oftentimes, difficult conversations are great opportunities to earn a customer’s trust. For example, we’ve all had a customer who fully believes inaccurate information he found online. When trying to correct his misconceptions, it can become frustrating when he seems to give more credence to an online blurb over your expertise. Proper training allows our salespeople to recognize this as a trust-building opportunity. Teach patience and how to establish your credibility. Emphasize concepts like your store’s years of service, your relationships with manufacturers, your status as an industry professional, that you stand behind the information you provide and that the customer always knows where he can find you if there’s a problem. After all, that information he read on the internet could have been written by a 13-year-old in an internet café who didn’t take the time to read the instructions.

Building loyalty means training ourselves to think beyond the moment. While this sounds simple, it’s not always so. What if you don’t have what your customer needs today, but only something similar? What if the item she wants to purchase won’t really solve her issue? Don’t be afraid to train your coworkers to point out the potential problems that can arise with a particular piece of gear, as well as its benefits, and to be clear in stating their concerns. Sure, this could result in a lost sale today, something our traditional sales training would call a bad thing. But this type of forthright dialog goes a long way toward building the trust that is important in creating a loyal customer. People will remember a store where the staff cared more about their customers than a quick buck.

Finally, give thought to the experience your customer has in your store. Sure, it’s essential for everything to be clean and well organized. Clever displays, fresh point-of-purchase materials and clear pricing are also important. The most critical factor about your customer’s experience, though, is how you make them feel during their visit. I truly think of each one as a guest. Greet them with a joyful smile and take a real interest in what brings them into your store. Thank them for giving you the opportunity to help. If they are a first-time visitor, ask their name. Always try to greet repeat customers by name. Make sure they know you are interested in them and the reason(s) they have come to see you, not just in making a sale. Most people like to talk about themselves, so give your customers the opportunity to open up to you. That personal connection is something an online or neighboring retailer will have a hard time competing against.

While satisfaction-based sales training is useful, take the extra step of teaching the concepts beyond simple gratification. Show your coworkers how to build trust, think past today and provide a personal connection to the customer. When you do, you’ll build a community of loyal patrons who not only shop with you, but spread the word of your awesomeness everywhere they go!

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