Quality customer service is the cornerstone of any successful retail organization and is a critical aspect in a company’s ability to generate business and maintain profitability. Every organization will consistently refer to the importance of the process by which products and services are delivered to our customers, and the role that the assistance and courtesy of our salespeople plays with those that patronize our business.
Good customer service is all about enhancing the customer experience whenever our guests visit our stores. It’s about taking the extra step to meet the customer’s needs. It’s about creating an atmosphere that’s pleasant and welcoming. It is a commitment to providing value-added services to include attitude, support, product knowledge, efficiency and professionalism. But it’s also something more. Good customer service is all about bringing customers back. It’s about establishing a rapport and building an impression that encourages repeat customers, and those who pass on that positive feedback to others. This is what determines our success. This is what builds a retail business.
Excellent customer service is achieved through a process that includes a well-conceived service strategy, customer-driven systems, and customer-friendly people. Separate from specific product and service needs, however, customers all have basic expectations for how they should be treated. It is therefore essential to be aware of the actions, behaviors and expectations that customers consider important when interacting with our sales team:
Personal Recognition—Customers want to be treated as valued individuals. While they might not always want personal assistance, they want to know that it’s there for them if they want additional help. They want to know that we are attentive and close by if they need us.
Courteous Treatment—Courteous and polite treatment is something that is expected and should be extended to every customer. There’s no excuse for being rude. Be friendly, and smile.
Respect—There is no situation in which it is acceptable to treat your customers with a lack of respect. Respect should guide every interaction with our customers. Every interaction should be fair, responsible and respectful.
Knowledge—Customers are most comfortable dealing with associates that know their products, know their store, and can comfortably and confidently convey their message.
Empathy—When shopping the store, when searching for products, and when interacting with our salespeople, customers appreciate it when you take the time to try to look at things from their perspective. Taking the opportunity to look at a situation through the customer’s eyes can make all of the difference.
Understanding—Customers have a need to feel understood. They want us to listen, and pay attention to their needs. Understanding what the customer is looking for keeps them engaged, and keeps them coming back.
Professionalism—It’s important to remain positive and professional in all customer interactions. Your behavior and conduct will have an impact on how the customer will view the professional tone of the company as a whole.
Awareness—Every aspect of the retail business has an impact on customer service; not just those that involve face to face customer contact. Developing an awareness of how the entire package comes together to drive the customer experience in the store builds customer service excellence.
There are many factors that impact the overall success of a business. But regardless of the specific type of retail store, the importance of good customer service cannot be underestimated. When customers come into our stores, we want them to leave with a positive experience. Employees that have the ability to convey an honest message, show that they care, and are able to interact with and assist customers will not only drive customer sales, it will keep our customers coming back—and encourage them to recommend our business to others.
So, what does all of this have to do with loss prevention? Well, strong customer service is also one of our most effective tools and most proactive means to control theft and other losses on the retail selling floor.
How Good Customer Service Impacts Loss Prevention
There are a multitude of potential contributors that can affect an individual’s decision to steal from a retail establishment. With theft incidents costing retailers tens of billions of dollars each and every year, long hours and extensive research have been devoted to the subject.
So, what do we know? We know that a potential thief can look like anyone. A thief is not bound by age, gender, race, creed, or socio-economic background. We can’t profile a thief by the way that they look, the way that they dress, or the way that they wear their hair. We know that some individuals steal based on needs, while others may steal simply based on rewards inherent to the act itself. Some steal to support a habit, while others have made it a profession. There are no clear-cut rules. There are no blanket personality types, profiles, or educational requirements.
Why would anyone take the risk? Why would anyone risk being arrested, prosecuted and sent to jail? Unfortunately, many fail to think through the potential consequences of their actions, or misjudge the potential risks of being caught, and make a poor decision. And for others operating under different motives, such concerns are not paramount in their evaluation of risk and reward. Instead, the decision to steal has more to do with the availability, accessibility, demand for and value of the merchandise. When the attraction of the merchandise is coupled with the opportunity to covertly remove and dispose of the items for profit or gain, then they see the risk as justified.
All of this leads us to a fundamental formula that summarizes the likelihood that a potential thief will make an attempt to steal from your store: opportunity + desire = theft.
In its most basic form, opportunity is a primary element in the formula for theft, and many steal simply as the result of an opportunity presenting itself. The opportunist might not enter a store with the intent to steal, but given the right circumstances, the impulse to pilfer the item might be just enough to push them to act. In simple terms, the greater the opportunity, the greater the risk for theft. And by the same respect, our ability to provide quality customer service will limit opportunities and go a long way towards avoiding the types of situations that lead to loss prevention concerns.
From a customer service perspective, this is also the type of theft motivation that we have the greatest probability of deterring and is often at the center of many of our training and awareness programs. A well-trained and well-managed sales staff that practices high quality customer service is key to reducing theft incidents in our stores. There are few things that are more intimidating to a potential thief than a salesperson focused on quality customer service.
Let’s go back to the expectations that we identified for how our good customers should be treated. The same actions, behaviors and expectations that our good customers consider important when interacting with our sales team pose a much different picture to the dishonest guest:
Personal Recognition—A shoplifter wants to be inconspicuous when they enter our stores, and does not want to be recognized. They do not want assistance. They prefer that we’re not paying any attention to them, and that we’re nowhere around as they attempt to steal from the store. They want privacy and solitude in order to steal.
Courteous Treatment—Courteous and polite treatment can be disarming to a shoplifter. Rude behavior can escalate a situation, leading to potential confrontations or other behaviors by the shoplifter intended to distract, draw attention away from the attempted theft, and/or persuade the associate to leave the potential shoplifter alone.
Respect—Regardless of the situation, every interaction with customers, including potential shoplifters, should be fair, responsible and respectful. As we’ve discussed, there is no situation in which it is acceptable to treat customers with a lack of respect. Showing a lack of respect can also quickly escalate a situation, and even put people at risk of harm. Respect should guide every interaction with our customers.
Knowledge—Potential shoplifters are least comfortable dealing with associates that know their products, know their store, and can comfortably and confidently convey their message.
Empathy—Shoplifters do not want you to look at things from their perspective. Taking the opportunity to look at a situation through the shoplifter’s eyes can make all of the difference in deterring a potential theft.
Understanding—Shoplifters do not want to feel understood. They do not want us to pay attention. Understanding what the shoplifter is looking for keeps them off guard, and discourages them from coming back.
Professionalism—It’s important to remain positive and professional in all customer interactions. Your behavior and conduct will have an impact on how the shoplifter will view the tone of the company as a whole.
Awareness—Developing an awareness of how customer service excellence helps to drive theft problems from the store.
What You Can Do
Focused, friendly and attentive salespeople that have the ability to successfully interact with the customers drive business excellence from every possible perspective, and quality customer service is an integral component of any successful loss prevention program. This is a shared goal that will have a direct bearing on sales, shrink, and overall business profitability. By requiring our associates to maintain quality customer service, loss prevention benefits are then simply a product of good business management.
Don’t forget to smile! Smiling is a very important part of the customer service experience. And by the same respect, it is a valuable tool when attempting to deter potential theft incidents.
Smiling sends many important messages. A smile is a sign of confidence and control. A smile is friendly and non-confrontational. A smile can help you to manage your emotions and your demeanor in potentially difficult situations. Many unpleasant situations can be avoided by simply using a smile when we greet and speak with our customers.
This type of cause and effect approach to is a key component of effective loss prevention management. Applying the principles of on a global scale and showing the relationship of good loss prevention practices with other aspects of the business will greatly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your efforts, and help build strong working relationships with other areas of the business.