Nothing kills retail sales like a rude employee and a bad customer interaction, according to a recent survey of 1,000 shoppers. Just a single, very bad in-store experience is enough to convince 75 percent of store customers to shop elsewhere, according to the inaugural Retail Pain Index from Qualtrics, which examined a variety of aspects of a shopper’s interaction with a store, from checkout to experiences with employees to product selection.
Rude employees were identified as the top reason for shopping experiences bad enough to never return (42 percent), followed by disorganized stores (17 percent). (The survey also asked about when a bad online shopping experiences might cause a customer to abandon a retail brand, and found that the failure of ordered items to arrive was the primary reason.)
“We read or hear about poor customer experiences all the time in the age of social media, but to see it quantified in this study just solidified what we all know from these anecdotes: Every experience matters,” said Mike Maughan, head of global insights at Qualtrics, in announcing the survey’s findings in Marketing Daily.
It’s not only important in retail. Hospital ratings, for example, can depend on patient and visitor satisfaction scores, which raises the stakes of every interaction security officers have with a member of the public. In short, for retail and several other industries, it is critical for asset protection personnel to both handle their job duties and to deal effectively with the public.
“People will spend more, be more loyal, and recommend the brand more when experiences are good,” said Maughan. “Retailers who prioritize great customer experiences are growing faster and taking market share from those that don’t.”
So how can loss prevention departments raise the customer IQ of its personnel?
We asked security directors from customer-centric industries what strategies they use that they think have been effective. Here is what they said:
Role-play during the interview process. Public relations skills can be honed, but individuals tend to have customer service orientation or not, according to a protective services manager at a major medical center in Ohio. Because customer satisfaction is tied to the hospital’s bottom line—via publicly accessible customer service scores—it’s a focus of the entire hospital, including the 85-member security staff. That’s why the security department hires with PR skills in mind. “If you want your security department to improve customer service, it’s much easier to start with employees who really live it and feel it,” he said.
Not everyone with good interpersonal skills has a customer service mindset, so the security team spends time in interviews trying to separate job candidates who truly have a customer service mentality from those who know the right things to say. To glean insight into a candidate’s customer service orientation, security staff performs role-playing exercises with applicants, such as asking them to demonstrate how they would enforce the facility’s no-smoking policy with a variety of personalities. “We look for customer service traits. Do they smile? Listen? Empathize?” he said. “It can become obvious when a person does not have a customer service mentality. We ask: ‘Do they have a problem-solving mentality that is focused on the customer? Do they approach it from a customer perspective first, rather than a security or legal perspective?'”
Automate measurement of customer service data. Several security directors said they use data streams to measure security staff productivity and to provide insight into how well security is handling customer touchpoints. For example, some security offices measure how quickly operators respond to calls and how quickly security responds. Several said they automate data collection points to keep a running record of customer service performance.
For example, one department tweaked its security incident database so that every 20th employee who makes a request or a report to the security department automatically receives a follow-up email to rate if the security department handled the issue satisfactorily. Automating data collection helps managers to track customer service levels on an ongoing basis, rather than as a special project when they receive a series of complaints.
Give contract security officers in-house training. Contract officers typically have enough basic instruction to go right to work in your establishments, but time spent on store-specific instruction pays off in the area of public relations, according to industry research. Companies rate contract guards significantly better in the area of public relations when they give them more in-house training, data show. It makes sense: if you school contract guards in your specific operation, expectations, and culture, they are better able to deal with the public in accordance with your desires. Data show that ten hours or more of in-house training is necessary to unlock the public relations potential of contract officers.
Conduct undercover tests of LP staff customer service. One department enlists light-duty employees and students to conduct face-to-face and telephone interactions with security employees to test their level of customer service.
The ‘secret shoppers’ then fill out a nine-question online survey of their experience, which includes the questions: If you called, did the officer identify himself/herself by name? When asking the officer for any type of assistance, did you think they were friendly and welcoming?
One business wants its asset protection staff to seek out ways to help visitors, not merely respond politely when asked. Some secret shoppers simply appear confused or in need of help in the presence of staff and then report whether officers reached out to help them or not.
- Don’t allow technology to limit personal interactions between LP managers and line staff. To convey the importance of interpersonal encounters to the rest of the department, LP leaders need to engage staff personally and not just over email.
- Brand the LP department. By adopting a logo, consistent typeface, and employing marketing strategies, a department can more effectively and professionally present itself, which improves customer service. “Branding” security also helps security staff feel part of a unit with shared goals and responsibility, something studies show enforces standards of behavior.
- Place a security manager in charge of improving public relations who is committed to the cause and thinks of customer service first and security second.
- In performance evaluations of customer-facing LP staff, include ratings in the areas of customer relations and service orientation.
- Train store employees on dealing with the public—and then frequently reinforce with real-world examples. All security staff that deal with the public need lessons on basic customer service techniques, such as asking visitors ‘Is there anything else I can do?’ after an interaction. For customer service to truly become part of the department culture, training should also include frequent refreshers. One protective services department conducts a weekly six-minute refresher lesson—using real customer conflicts during security encounters for training fodder—during shift changes.
- Focus on customer management skills for younger LP department employees (those 30 years old and under). Speaking at a recent national security conference, a management consultant made the point that today’s younger workers, who have been raised on technology, typically have worse people skills than older workers, and they may need some basic instruction on how to communicate with the public.
- Give security staff a script to work from to help them communicate. One security director said they gave officers a finite set of phrases to use as a standard greeting to visitors in order to improve consistency across officers and shifts and to improve customer service.