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Take the Stress Out of Your Customers’ Checkout Experience

Make a great final impression.

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THE FINAL IMPRESSION of a store is as important as the first. A customer’s experience at checkout leaves a lasting impression and may be the difference between recommending, or not recommending a store.

How many times have you heard this when waiting with a number of people in front of a checkout counter: The cashier asks “Can I help the next guest?” You think, “ Why have I become the manager of this line!? Why do I have to keep track of the order in which people arrived? Did that guy sneak in front of me? Should I confront him?”

It’s a stressful situation. And this is not the place for a customer to be dealing with stress.

You can make checkout stress-free.

If your counter is not parallel to a wall, relocate it so it is. Add stanchions in front to keep the line organized, so there’s a clear understanding of who’s in line and in what order. There aren’t people milling around the counter. There’s a queue, and it’s clear where they are in line. No stress.

A merchandise fixture can substitute for stanchions, but it needs to be low, so as not to block the view of the wrap. Using a fixture for this creates an opportunity to merchandise impulse items and keep them off the counter. Keep the counter free of clutter.

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There should be a minimum of 30 inches of clear space for the transaction. Some stores have too many impulse-buy items on the counter, and the actual transaction space is cramped.

The associate at the counter needs to be seen clearly. You and I understand the need to do projects when there are no customers at the counter. But if it’s not a project that can be done at the counter, the associate is likely to be focused on the project and not on the customer walking up to the wrap. The customer will then need to find the associate himself. Bad start to a checkout experience.

The counter area should feature your logo. This is a branding moment, and you want customers to remember your store’s name. After all, you want them to recommend your store to their friends. It can go on the wall behind the register, on the counter itself, or be a suspended sign.

The customer service they receive reflects on your brand as well. The associate should make eye contact, acknowledge the customer, and say “Hi.” While the associate is ringing up the sale, he should be friendly, polite and warm. If there are customers waiting or someone is trying to ask a question, those people also need to be acknowledged: “I’ll be right with you.”

Customers want a good checkout experience. Once they’re at the register, the only thing they should think about is taking out their wallets.

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Tom Crossman has designed entertainment centers and retail stores for FAO Schwarz, Dollywood and Toys ‘R’ Us. He was a featured speaker at Global Pet Expo in 2018. His work can be seen at tomcrossman.com, and he can be reached at tom@tomcrossman.com.

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To Get to the Bottom of a Complaint, Pause, Smile and Ask

When a customer lies, it may not be for the reasons you think.

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THE RESTAURANT IS a favorite of mine. The food is good, and it’s fun and kinda funky. When we sat down to meet for this first date, I had no expectations. The conversation was fast and fun, and so we decided to order dinner. He ordered a burger and fries, me a salad.

When the food came, the female server set it down with a flourish, and it looked great. I barely had a moment to admire my salad when the man sitting opposite me said, “The fries are cold.”

The server was momentarily stunned but quickly recovered and said, “I’ll bring you new ones.” And she hightailed it out of there to have a word with the kitchen.

There was a pause, so I said, “I’m so sorry you got a bad order, this place is usually great.” Because, of course, I’m feeling bad for suggesting a place that, it turns out, serves cold food. What does that say about my taste and judgment?

Then he said, “No worries, the fries aren’t really cold. There’s just not enough, so now they’ll bring more.”

I blinked in stunned silence and then gathering my wits about me asked, “Do you do this often?” To which he said, “Only when I think I’ve been shorted on something.”

Think about this for a moment. Where do you land on the right or wrong of this exchange?

As a consumer, you might agree that if you feel shorted in service, or product, or value, it’s within your rights to complain or ask … but to lie?

As a business owner, you may feel outraged and taken advantage of by a customer who is clearly misleading you or your team for additional gain.

Here’s my take from a leadership standpoint:

  • Pause to take a breath. This can allow you to get emotions in check.
  • Smile. This may be forced — after all, they are bringing up a complaint.
  • Ask a question. This is the best thing however only if it’s a question that still makes the customer feel in control (rather than wrong), and it clarifies the real issue.

The example in this instance may have been that the server could have paused, smiled and asked, “Do you want me to replace them?”

Since the answer is most likely yes, then take the whole meal away.

If you get pushback — “It’s OK, just bring me more fries” — this is when you know the real intent behind the comment, and you can say, “If the fries (or whatever the complaint is) are not to your liking, we must check your whole meal so you are completely satisfied.”

If you have a pet business, you’re not selling fries, of course. However, you do have some customers who are hard to satisfy, and they can surprise you or take advantage of you, all the while feeling justified in doing so. Luckily, the same techniques will work: Pause, smile, ask a question.

Think about and discuss with your team the kinds of questions that are able to get to the bottom of the issue (or customer intent) without making the customer feel wrong.

For me, I learned several things that evening, the most important being to put myself in the position of both the customer and the business owner. If all of us did that more, maybe the experience for everyone would be better.

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Columns

3 Ways to Develop Relationships with Local Customers Via Instragram

Instagram is great at some things but extremely tricky if you’re trying to use it to drive direct sales.

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HOW DO I GROWTH-HACK a local audience on Instagram for my pet business?

We get this question a lot and, first, our answer is always a question:

“What are you trying to do?”

The fact is that Instagram is great at some things (raising awareness and building brand loyalty, especially for local businesses), but extremely tricky if you’re trying to use it to drive direct sales.

The reason why is simple:

Instagram lacks one thing: an easy way to link from a post to buy — unless, of course, you pay for an ad. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, Instagram gives you only one link off the platform — on your bio — making it much less likely to drive traffic to your website to buy now.

However, my team and I often see strong success for local pet brands looking to develop relationships with current and potential customers on Instagram. In some ways, the lack of direct sales appears to create a stronger bond with those individuals because they sense that selling is not the brand’s main objective.

Creating and developing a relationship with your customers becomes the main objective for a local business using Instagram. (And then driving them to your email list or store for direct sales.)
Your local pet business’s feed then becomes a refreshing way for local people to connect with your brand — making it a great channel for building customer loyalty and awareness.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Use hyper-local targeting when you’re interacting with others on Instagram. For example, if you’re using Instagram to grow, then focus on leaving comments on local hashtags like #upperwestsidedogs. This builds on the community who uses #upperwestside and draws out the dog-lovers from there. Don’t worry about spending time interacting on national or massively used hashtags, like #catsofinstagram or #greyhounds. In most cases, that will just attract a lot of spammers.

2. Create hyper-local content that shows off your brand. While you may write or do a video about puppy training, spring grooming or the great new pet treats in stock, look for ways to slip in information about local dog-friendly places and landmarks in all you do. This constantly reminds people they are interacting with a real person in the area.

Post about the best dog-friendly parks in the area. Or post about the best time to practice loose-leash walking at those parks using those new treats. More broadly, post about the top behavior challenges you see local people struggle with when parenting a dog. Regardless of what you post, frequently end with a call to action to have the person sign up for your email for tips on how to solve the issue.

3. Post using local hashtags, mixing in bigger ones occasionally. On Instagram, try looking at your neighborhood’s local “places” and seeing what people are using when they’re posting in your area. Typing in “upperwestside” and looking at the related tags may give you things you didn’t know about to try. Finally, look at other local businesses (even ones in different industries) and see what tags they’re using that aren’t industry-specific. There could be some fairly popular tags you could incorporate with your posts.

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Editor's Note

Business-Building Advice on the Go

Read PETS+ in print or online, watch PETS+ Live! webinars, and now, listen to a new monthly podcast.

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WE AT PETS+ ARE always looking for new ways to deliver business-building advice. We have, of course, the print magazine you’re holding in your hands. Our e-bulletins, packed with industry news, arrive in your inbox six days a week.

Our website is being constantly updated with online extras that won’t fit into the magazine. Our Facebook community lets you carry on the conversation with your peers. And twice a month, Pet Boss Nation’s Candace D’Agnolo brings you interviews and instruction in our PETS+ Live! webinars.

Beginning this month, we’re expanding our lineup with the “Beyond the Pages” podcast, hosted by Keith Miller.

As you may know, Keith and his wife, Patrycia, own Bubbly Paws, a chain of self-service dog washes in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The St. Louis Park location was featured as a Cool Store in these pages in February 2018. What you may not know about Keith is he has a background as a radio producer and does monthly TV spots on his local NBC affiliate.

In “Beyond the Pages,” Keith combines all his skills to bring you in-depth conversations with experts in a variety of fields that we’re sure you’re going to find extremely useful and an entertaining way to spend a half hour or so.

Two episodes — one on building a killer website and one on getting the most out of social media — are already available here: petsplusmag.com/education/podcasts.

Look out for future episodes on such topics as how to hire and maintain millennial employees, what type of insurance policies your business should have, choosing the right POS software — even what’s hot at SuperZoo — when they are released on the first Friday of the month. And stay tuned for info on how to subscribe on your favorite podcast service.

And remember, no matter in what form you consume advice from PETS+, we want to hear what you think.

Best wishes for your business,

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Ralf Kircher
Editor-in-Chief, Pets+
ralf@petsplusmag.com

Five Great Tips From This Issue That You Can Do Today

  1. Think back to your most successful promotion over the past couple of years. Got it? OK, now repeat it. (Manager’s To-Do List, page 12)
  2. Think of the top 10 reasons people call you and then put the info on an FAQ page on your website. (Manager’s To-Do List, page 12)
  3. Offer behavior consults to properly place pups into your longer-term training programs. (Hot Sellers, page 16)
  4. Need Instagram inspiration? Post local places folks can take their pets. (Columns, page 40)
  5. Assign job candidates the task of creating a short video of themselves explaining what they have to offer. (Columns, page 41)

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