Business Consulting

Want to Increase In-Store Sales? Ignore the Phone.

by Hillary Berman of Popcorn & Ice Cream

It’s no secret that we’re more connected than ever before. And the number of available sales channels is increasing everyday. As customers, we enjoy anywhere, anytime access to products previously only available at local boutiques through the likes of not only Amazon, but also Etsy or buyable Pins. Toilet paper, the latest David Baldacci book and dinner for a family of four on our doorsteps in three hours? We’ll take it! Gift for a birthday party delivered already-wrapped tomorrow? Yes, please! But with this connectivity, as customers or potential customers, we expect 24×7 customer service. Candidly, our expectations are sometimes simply unreasonable for small business to meet.

From a small business owner’s standpoint, Amazon has opened new sales channels for mom inventors and other new market entrants alike. While email, social media and even text messaging affords new opportunities to engage with customers, with these myriad communications tools comes added distraction. The land line is ringing while your inbox is filling, Facebook notifications piling up, and text messages dinging on your phone. And these are just the business-related communications, though  the many and frequent personal distractions that come in on a regular basis are real, too. And these communications are all bombarding you while there’s a customer in the store right in front of you.

So how can small business owners provide the service today’s demanding, connected customers expect? Let’s be honest, in many cases you can’t. But you can still keep customers happy. Focus on the immediate opportunity first — the customer standing there with cash (or credit) in hand. Then address the phone, email, text, social media and other inquires from could-be customers when time permits or with other resources not on the immediate front lines of in-store sales. We’re not suggesting taking weeks to get back to those virtual inquiries.  Rather, embrace and clearly communicate a service-oriented culture that shows your commitment to customers.

My mom tells a story of a lesson she learned when working at a fabric store in high school. The store owner directed employees to ignore the phone if a customer was in the store. Don’t answer it with an offer to call back. Just let it ring. And this was before the days of voicemail and answering machines. His belief was that if the caller was truly interested, he’d call back. And the customer in the s

It’s no secret that we’re more connected than ever before. And the number of available sales channels is increasing everyday. As customers, we enjoy anywhere, anytime access to products previously only available at local boutiques through the likes of not only Amazon, but also Etsy or buyable Pins. Toilet paper, the latest David Baldacci book and dinner for a family of four on our doorsteps in three hours? We’ll take it! Gift for a birthday party delivered already-wrapped tomorrow? Yes, please! But with this connectivity, as customers or potential customers, we expect 24×7 customer service. Candidly, our expectations are sometimes simply unreasonable for small business to meet.

From a small business owner’s standpoint, Amazon has opened new sales channels for mom inventors and other new market entrants alike. While email, social media and even text messaging affords new opportunities to engage with customers, with these myriad communications tools comes added distraction. The land line is ringing while your inbox is filling, Facebook notifications piling up, and text messages dinging on your phone. And these are just the business-related communications, though  the many and frequent personal distractions that come in on a regular basis are real, too. And these communications are all bombarding you while there’s a customer in the store right in front of you.

So how can small business owners provide the service today’s demanding, connected customers expect? Let’s be honest, in many cases you can’t. But you can still keep customers happy. Focus on the immediate opportunity first — the customer standing there with cash (or credit) in hand. Then address the phone, email, text, social media and other inquires from could-be customers when time permits or with other resources not on the immediate front lines of in-store sales. We’re not suggesting taking weeks to get back to those virtual inquiries.  Rather, embrace and clearly communicate a service-oriented culture that shows your commitment to customers.

My mom tells a story of a lesson she learned when working at a fabric store in high school. The store owner directed employees to ignore the phone if a customer was in the store. Don’t answer it with an offer to call back. Just let it ring. And this was before the days of voicemail and answering machines. His belief was that if the caller was truly interested, he’d call back. And the customer in the store deserved truly focused attention, as he was standing there ready to make a purchase then and there.

Clearly the “just ignore it” mentality doesn’t work in today’s world of Yelp! and real-time social media complaints. But we’d still argue that no matter how many ways we have to engage with a prospect or would-be customer, the customer in front of you is the one that deserves your attention. Yes, the customer with an email inquiry may be ready to buy. But the customer in the store can quickly go from sale to lost opportunity without good ol’ fashioned customer service.

Certainly there’s no ability to predict when the next customer will walk in. And we’d never advocate cutting off a phone-based customer placing an order just because someone new comes into view. The goal is to be aware of the distractions and focus on addressing the needs of true buyers.

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Hillary Berman’s business, Popcorn & Ice Cream provides small businesses a partner, coach, and consultant in their marketing so they can achieve “success” – no matter how they define it.

Drawing on experience with branding, public relations, advertising, custom events, trade shows, market research, social media and corporate philanthropy, Hillary works with small businesses to create marketing programs that resonate with customers, achieve goals and reflect the personality of the business.  You can view her profile HERE.

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