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Candace D'Agnolo

Customer Service vs. Customer-Friendly: Knowing the Difference Could Be the Key to Your Success

There’s a big difference, and knowing it may be your key to success.

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IF I ASKED YOU what sets you apart from your competition, would you say “great customer service”? I bet you would. But if I asked you if your policies, hours and experience were in turn “customer-friendly,” could you respond with the same enthusiasm?

I know you’re thankful for every customer who walks through your door. You offer them amazing customer service, no doubt. But does your customer think your return policy, for example, shows you’re grateful to have them as a customer? Do they feel forced into too many rules? Do signs in your store say, “If they pee on it, you pay for it”?
How would your business change if you looked at it through the lens of being thankful for your customers? Here are strategies to show customers you’re thankful during each phase of contact.

Show Thankfulness at First Point of Contact

Are you open when your customers need you to be? If your pet parents are working 9-to-5 jobs, are you open at least a couple later evenings and/or weekends? And when they arrive at your store, first impressions are everything! You want an inviting entry, free from cluttered signs that could detract from their experience or convey a negative tone from the start. Ensure that when customers walk in the door, their experience is rewarding. Are employees greeting every customer in a unique and genuine way?

Show Gratitude During the Experience

The second phase for your customers is the shopping experience. If you were shopping for clothes or food for a party, you would want to try things on and sample the goods to ensure you will be pleased with your purchases. When it comes to your store, do you allow pets to try things on? Why not? If not, do you have a sizing chart for types of dogs and weights to help your customers choose the correct size? Do your employees know how to make the proper recommendations? Do you offer treat samples? You can easily open a bag to allow a customer’s pet to try a treat, then if they don’t purchase it you can use it for future samples.

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Show Them How Much You Trust Them

The third phase happens at the register. Are your return policies customer-friendly? Are they clear and simple like … “Your Satisfaction is Our No. 1 Priority,” or is your receipt filled with rules? Customers are busy. As much as they may wish to get back to your store in the 14 days your policy allows for, life happens, and a return very well could be put on the back burner. The same goes with the returning of used, opened or defective merchandise. Think not only about what is a reasonable expectation for these scenarios, but what will make your customers happy at the end of each transaction?
Having a customer-centered shopping experience is the key to increasing return customers. Become comfortable with releasing the worry of customers taking advantage of policies. Don’t be afraid to let go of the rules! When you do, it releases the friction and tension for employees and customers alike when bringing up the dreaded returns or damaged goods.

It’s the time of year that we’re all hyper-focused on being thankful for what we have, but according to scientists, feeling thankful year-round will boost your well-being, improving your chances for success, and in turn, I believe your sales will increase as a result. An easy place to start is to be thankful for your customers, showing them through their experience with you.

Candace D’Agnolo owns successful pet business Dogaholics and offers business consulting at Pet Boss Nation. For help creating a customized 90-day plan to tackle all your business goals, download a free worksheet, at petbossnation.com/petsplus. Contact her at hello@petbossnation.com.

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PETS+ LIVE! WITH CANDACE D'AGNOLO

Webinar Replay: How to Keep That Holiday Momentum Rolling

Catch a replay of the recent PETS+ Live! webinar, in which host Candace D'Agnolo discusses how pet business owners can maintain their sales momentum after the holidays are finished. To see more PETS+ Live! webinars, visit https://petsplusmag.com/petspluslive.

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Candace D'Agnolo

Eyes Open: Three Principles Learned While Traveling That You Can Apply to Your Business

Just a few of what traveling can teach you in business.

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Traveling to South Africa was one of the best things I’ve done with my time and money. I went with eight other women entrepreneurs, visiting local businesses that are making a big impact in their communities. While their products and services may have been different from pets, their business models and attitudes provided inspiration, no matter the industry.

CURATION. At Babylonstoren, we experienced farm-to-table dining and products. They grow everything they use in their hotel and restaurant right there on the property. From the meats, cheese and vegetables at dinner, to the bath soaps, shampoos and wine in the room, it’s all made on site. Because of seasonal changes in availability of the ingredients, the menu is always variable, consistently fresh and curated.
The takeaway: Are there local farmers, meat packers or treat makers who you can get involved with? Do you have a set of standards you measure your products by? How fresh are your goods? In retail, your entire shop should be averaging a turn of at least 4. We encourage our clients to have new merchandise every 90 days or more.

QUALITY. At Waterkloof Wine Estate, they produce “biodynamic” wines, which means they don’t put chemicals in their products and work to create a diverse, balanced ecosystem that generates health and vitality. Horses can be seen tilling the ground. Cows walk the vineyards to fertilize the soil. And if a wine doesn’t turn out to their standards, they just don’t use it. Their success comes not only from the great wine they produce, but from the quality they demand every step of the way.
The takeaway: Start caring about the “health” of your business from the inside out. Would taking better care of your team result in better customer service? Yes! Would ensuring your products are looking their best turn into more sales? You bet!

EXPERTISE. At Culture Club Cheese, we received a massive charcuterie platter served on a tree trunk slab. The owner of the shop shared with us all about the cheeses, where they came from and the history behind each. As our group asked questions, the shop owner shared further about discovering the cheese at the world’s largest cheese festival in Italy. This story kept many of us engaged and interested, while others listened and shopped for goodies to eat later.
The takeaway: Share more about the products you’re selling. Learn the stories behind the brands. Share reasons why you chose to bring it in and what your excitement was when you discovered it. This will help your customers connect to you and the products you represent.

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I really loved that all the places we discovered knew exactly who they were, what their vision was, and the fact they acted in alignment with each every day. Use expertise, quality and curation to build loyal customers, to convert more sales and to position yourself as an industry expert in your community.

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Candace D'Agnolo

With a Little Planning, You Can Get That Annual Inventory Done in a Day

You will never know it’s importance to your health as a retailer unless you do it.

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THE FIRST TIME I DID inventory for my store, we printed out the 400-page inventory list, put it into binders and whipped out the highlighters. My mom and little brother helped me look for items on the pages. But there was lots of merchandise on those pages that wasn’t physically there, so hunting for it all took us a very long time … one week, in fact. I don’t think we actually finished because I got so frustrated. What was I thinking? Fortunately, I can laugh about it now. And since then, our inventory process became so well-oiled, we got it down to 12 hours.

I know you dread the thought of closing your store for even one day to count animal parts and check expiration dates on all 30-pound bags of dog food, but having an annual inventory — heck, even quarterly spot checks — is of utmost importance to your health as a retailer. Here are some reasons why and how to tackle your inventory, so you never have the same experience as I did so many years ago.

The Benefits of a Physical Inventory

Inventory is your biggest asset, so ensuring its accuracy in your point-of-sale system is critical. Use your POS to help you make smart buying decisions. When the inventory data is off, it results in wasting money, missing sales opportunities, covering up theft issues and so much more. Knowing exactly how much inventory you have on hand is one of the smartest things you can do for your business.

When you have accurate inventory counts, it enables you to have the right balance of inventory. You can catch overstocked slow-sellers and restock on best-sellers quickly. When a POS doesn’t have accurate information, you’re purchasing off of gut instinct, or you’re physically counting merchandise every time … wasting exactly that: time.

Conducting Your Store’s Annual Inventory

The beginning of the new year is the perfect time to conduct your store’s inventory. For tax purposes, you need to report the total inventory on hand at the close of business on Dec. 31. So, executing an inventory on Jan. 1 or soon after is ideal. But if that’s not feasible, just deduct any receiving on or after the first from your inventory total, add back in the inventory you sold after the first, and you’ll have your Dec. 31 number.

As you prepare for physical counting, notify customers that your store will be closed, and get all employees committed to helping. Use barcode scanners, laptops or other technology to speed up the process. Even legal notepads will work for writing things down. Start by counting everything you physically see, working your way, section by section, through the store. This is what you’ll load into your POS. You do not need to print out an encyclopedia of your store’s inventory. All POS systems will show you the discrepancies list once you load the new numbers. At that point you can go searching for missing stock.

Extra Steps

Take this time to look at expiration dates, quality of packaging, consistent pricing and other issues. Remove items from displays, pull the displays out and clean the area. It’s the perfect opportunity to spruce up. Use large boxes or bins to sort items into categories, like expired, missing price, unknown item.

This is going to be a long day, so sprinkle in some fun! Have meals delivered, and healthy snacks and beverages on hand for the team. Listen to music by letting each person play DJ. Rotate each hour or so to keep it interesting.

Spending this little extra time on the dreaded annual inventory day will actually save you money and time in the end.

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Candace D'Agnolo

5 Ways to Sell More to Your Best Customers

Benefit from the lucrative opportunities walking through your door.

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This article originally appeared in the July-August 2017 edition of PETS+.

EIGHTY PERCENT your sales come from 20 percent of your customers. So while your competition worries about getting new customers in the door, you can take advantage of the more lucrative opportunities already walking in. Here are five strategies to strategically sell more to your top 20 percent.

Lead with a Conversation. “Hi! How are you?” …

“My name is Mary, let me know if you need anything.”

You’d better be cringing. Saying either is almost as detrimental as ignoring the customer completely.

Train your team to have a conversation: “What brings you in today?” or “Tell me about your pet.” Include open-ended questions to encourage customers to open up. Customers get to know and trust a sales associate who genuinely listens and responds. Suddenly, the right products and services are an easier sell (and you have the information to make recommendations).

Remember Add-Ons. Items that complement the primary purchase should never be forgotten but often are because we get lazy and just assume that if the customer needed it he would have asked. Stop assuming and make it automatic to suggest the most natural add-on to every sale. For example, a customer buying a collar might need a matching leash or updated ID tag. Complementary items are the path of least resistance from the customer as you’re suggestively selling, and they’re just good customer service from a knowledgeable expert.

Service providers have an especially easy time with add-ons — if they only ask. When a client books a boarding appointment, ask if she’d like her dog to be groomed before pickup so he smells fresh and clean. After she says yes, ask about teeth brushing or de-shedding. Before you know it, you’ve added an extra $50 to that reservation just because you asked a few simple questions.

Dig to the Root of the Issue. Once you master the basics of the conversation, use it to sell more while wowing the customer with service. Let’s say a customer comes in for a harness. Instead of immediately jumping to the complementary matching leash, a conversation can get to the heart of the need. What’s really making the customer come in for the harness? What if you discover he’s fed up with his dog pulling? While fitting the dog for a harness, drop some expert knowledge: While the harness will help, the true trick to ending the pulling is teaching the dog the “heel” command. And to have a focused dog during training, he needs your absolute favorite, no-dog-can-resist treat. Carry on with the suggestion of a treat pouch. Toss some training tips on how to master heel, and score! Double add-on!

Connect the Dots. Taking the harness example further, connect all the dots of the purchase he is about to make. What other products might he need as a result of using the product he came in for? Will the dog’s fur mat from the harness rubbing? Inform him of this and suggest a slicker brush. Does the dog have little to no hair like a boxer or pit bull? Let him know about balms to soothe rough patches.

Sell at the Register. The register area is the final place where you can increase a sale. Be strategic with the items you feature here instead of cluttering it up with miscellaneous afterthoughts. At my boutique, we had three buckets overflowing with bully sticks at three price points to accommodate all budgets. We included a sign that read “Your dog will be upset if you leave empty-handed. He’ll be able to smell that you were near a bully stick. Stock up today — Buy 3 Get the 4th Free.” More than half our customers would bite and most of those bought more than one. This concept sometimes resulted in a $60 impulse purchase!

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