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How to handle shoplifters.

I read a story not too long ago (in a book) about a woman who was shopping in a store that was having a big sale. She was taking a whole bunch of items to the counter and buying a whole bunch of things.

Apparently, something slipped in her purse or something and the clerk accused her of shoplifting (quite publicly). Needless to say, the customer got quite embarrassed and offended. When she got home, she called the store’s manager, who didn’t seem to care and did nothing. The lady never went back to the store and told a whole bunch of people about her terrible experience.

So, how do you avoid a situation like that? What do you do if you think someone is shoplifting? There is no good way. However, it’s important to try and do it the best way you can.

A little note: I have no idea what the statistics are about people accused of shoplifting versus those who actually are. I’ve never worked in retail – these observations are just what I think would be best from a customer service perspective. The closest experience I have to this are dealing with orders that may fraudulent (similar concept).

Here are some tips on how to handle people you think are shoplifting.

  • Just think. Don’t know. In order to make the experience as good as possible, you need to assume that not all of your customers are criminals or how to cheat you. You can have a hunch, but you should never be sure a customer is shoplifting.
  • Don’t make it public. It is completely wrong to make it public that a customer is shoplifting. If you think he or she is, ask the customer to come to the side or go up to them and quietly say something.
  • Sugarcoat it. You can always say something like “Did you forget to pay for that?”, “I think you forgot an item”, etc. Granted, none of these are perfect, but it is a better than saying “You shoplifter!”
  • Mention shoplifter programs. If you are pretty sure the person was trying to shoplift, you can mention about how many problems with shoplifters you have and how they don’t realize how much trouble they can get in, and so forth. I’m not sure how effective that method might be, but it seems like a subtle way to mention it.
  • Train clerks to watch for it. Train all of your clerks and security guards to follow “customer service friendly” procedures for dealing with shoplifters.
  • Watch the numbers. If you notice that 70% of people you accuse are actually shoplifters, you may need to be a bit harsher. However, if it’s just 10%, you should act accordingly.

What are your suggestions? How have you dealt with shoplifters in the past?

Close the sale on a good note.

I’ve noticed some interest on how to close a sale. It seems like a good topic. Sales isn’t really my specialty, but I think I can provide a customer service perspective on the topic.

Before you have convinced the person that buying is a good idea, here are some things to consider:

  • Don’t upsell. I talked briefly about upselling here. If you are in any sort of business where you want repeat customers, loyalty, and referrals (most businesses), don’t try to upsell customers. Suggest what you think is right for them and what you think will meet their needs.
  • Don’t hide the fees. If there are any hidden fees or something like that, don’t hide them. The price you give should include (or at least, plainly mention) any of the fees that may apply. Things like sales tax are expected, but if there is a “processing fee”, you should mention that.
  • Follow-up. If a customer shows interest, but doesn’t buy – follow-up the next day. See if they are still interested, if there are any questions you can answer, or anything you can help them with. Don’t be pushy, but simply offer to help.
  • Don’t discount. I prefer to add value instead of blatantly discounting. Throw in a free printer (instead of just taking the $50 off). However, make sure it’s something the customer wants. Ask them what they’d like and you may be surprised.
  • Address concerns. If a customer is on the fence about something, ask. Try to address those concerns.
  • Be honest. Seeing a theme? You want to be honest and build a positive relationship with the customer. Tell them what you think of various products, what you think will work for them, what the warranty covers, and so on.

These things generally help close a sale. You want to be attentive and honest. If you are those things, the sale is likely to happen.

The next question is, what do you do after the sale is closed and it’s time to check out?

  • Speedy checkout. Try to make it so your checkout processes are as speedy and streamlined as possible. Go get the box or whatever so the customer can see it and look at it while you are doing the paperwork.
  • Go over charges. Go over charges and anything else that is relevant. Highlight the number that they need to write a check for or that will be charged on their credit card.
  • Go over support options. Talk about anything they may need in terms of support, service, etc. down the road. Go over the options and how it is relevant. What’s included, what isn’t, etc.
  • Thank the customer. Obviously, you want to thank the customer for their purchase.
  • Help them if needed. Offer to help carry things to the car, wrap things, etc.
  • Thank again. You can never have enough thank you’s.

And once the customer has left the store:

  • Follow-up 1: Follow-up in about 48 hours to make sure everything was setup and in the box as expected.
  • Follow-up 2: Follow-up in about two weeks to ensure that everything is working well so far and works as expected.
  • Follow-up 3: Follow-up about a month before the expected service period (i. e. 6 months, 12 months, etc.) and make sure they’ve been happy and ask if they need any assistance.

What are your suggestions to close the sale on a good note?

A little thing that made a big difference.

Last week I was reading a post entitled “Mining March Madness” at Flooring the Consumer. As I was reading the post, I thought about how cool it was that the store went well out of their way to make it a great experience for the customer. The story comes from a lady who has a lot of experience in retail with Sears and obviously did a great job.

Basically, what the lady did was:

  • Made a nice environment for guys in the store to watch the game or other TV.
  • They would have chairs, popcorn, food, water, and all that stuff. The store got the local food vendors to give away samples and the water (with an ad on it) donated. The vendors also gave out coupons .
  • Sales people dressed in team colors (they were given an additional discount on related items).
  • To ensure things ran well, they added extra trash cans and had salespeople keep things clean. The store also posted signs asking food/beverage to be limited within the theater area.
  • To gather feedback, they placed surveys asking about the store and the shopping experience. The results were good.

From a business perspective, it worked well. The sales in the fashion areas increased during customer appreciation events/promotions like the March Madness ones. Wives could shop while their husbands watched TV and ate. This is like stores giving men a place to sit.

The store also stacked featured products near the TVs where the guys were. Sony gave out web cards, balloons, and key cards highlighting new and improved products, which likely helped electronic sales as well. The guys could look at all the high tech stuff and watch TV, the girls could shop for clothes. Seems much better than an average retail experience.

The store learned that men read and hold onto printed materials more than women. To benefit from this, the store placed warranty information, product care brochures, and all of those things around the area.

Supposedly the section of the store became known as Daddy Daycare. As a guy, I’m not sure if I would appreciate the area having that name (guys, what do you think?) – but I know I would like what the area offered.

This is a great example of a little thing (not really easy, but not a really huge deal, either) that made a big difference. Everyone was happy – the girls, the guys, the employees, and the store’s business people. It’s a win-win-win-win and those are very hard to come by in any industry.

Oh, and it’s always nice to write about a positive experience instead of a negative one.

Not yet for Verizon, but Sprint this time.

Verizon has contacted me to resolve my issue (I sent them an email the other day), so I’ll see what they do before posting about the experience. I’m also working on an interview with Verizon – it won’t talk about my experience directly, but it will talk about what Verizon is doing to prevent similar things from happening.

However, I do have a story about Sprint/Nextel to tell. I wish I had had a video camera or a tape recorder.

Yesterday I went out to find a possible alternative cellphone. My local mall has several cellphone stores in it and my first stop was at Sprint. While I was experimenting with the very nice Palm Treo, a customer went up to desk and asked for help. Seems like a typical request, right?

Right, but there was a problem: there were about six other customers that also had questions. The store employee (who will call John and I imagine was the manager) told the customer (calling him Bob) that he was helping other people and would be with him as soon as possible. That’s when the issues began.

On the customer’s side, I have to say that John’s attitude was not as friendly or helping as it could have been. The better thing to say would have been something along the lines of “Sir, once I’m finished working with these customers, I’d be delighted to help you. I just need a few minutes and I’ll be right with you.” It’s hard to basically tell a customer to wait, but there are better ways to say things.

From the manager’s perspective, there are always going to be inconsiderate customers. Bob was not the perfect customer by any means – he was rude and inconsiderate. However, his actions weren’t that bad and he was manageable.

After having John basically tell him to wait, Bob said he had just a question or something of that nature. The manager, this time a bit more rudely said he was helping other customers and would be with him as soon as possible. John said he didn’t want to wait 40 minutes.

This is another area where the manager didn’t do what he should have done. The manager said “I didn’t say that. You are assuming that. I didn’t tell you you’d have to wait 40 minutes.” As a representative, it’s a bad idea to shift blame to an upset customer. It will almost always set them off even more.

What the manager should have said was: “Sir, I’m confident you won’t have to wait 40 minutes. If you don’t mind waiting for a couple of minutes, I will be right with you.” It doesn’t blame anyone and reinforces that the employee does want to help the customer.

Since the manager didn’t say the right thing, it got the customer going even more. I don’t recall exactly what was said after that, but the events basically went like this:

  1. Customer asks for help while employee is busy.
  2. Employee says he will help the customer in a moment.
  3. Customer insists he “just has a question” and doesn’t want to wait.
  4. Employee reiterates he is helping another customer.
  5. Both customer/employee get frustrated.
  6. Customer gets somewhat rude. (I don’t recall exactly what he said.)
  7. Employee asks customer to leave.
  8. They continue to argue. Employee again asks customer to leave.
  9. Customer calls employee a “loser” as he leaves.

The way it was handled was quite childish of the customer and poorly handled by the manager. If the customer started to get rude or act inappropriate, the manager should have excused himself and discussed the issue privately (and briefly) with the customer (as opposed to yelling it across the store).

I hope this post illustrates how different an experience can be (even when dealing with an irrational/rude customer) if it’s well handled by the employee. All it takes is a combination of little things to make a big difference.

It seems as if I’m on a telecom company kick the last few days. These phone companies seem to be even worse than the banks. Do note, I have never been a customer of Sprint/Nextel. This was just something I overheard while I was at the Sprint store.

Verizon Customer Service isn’t so good.

A little over a week ago, I talked about my great experiences with Verizon. Well, I take it back. I’ve spent the last hour and a half on the phone with Verizon and it’s been the worst customer service experience I’ve been a part of in months. More about it this Monday.

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Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com – Part 4

This is the fourth and final part of the interview with Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com.

In this part of the interview, he discusses the company’s team structure, some of their employees’ unique set of job responsibilities, the employees benefits at PFL, the company’s growth, their dog policy, and some parting advice.

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Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com – Part 3

Here is part three of the interview with Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com. In this part, he talks about how the company recruits people in Montana, where their employees are from, and what their hiring/training processes are like.

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Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com – Part 2

Here is part two of the interview with Andrew Field, the CEO of PrintingForLess.com.

In this part of the interview, he talks about the company’s customer service philosophy, how they have tried to improve the printing experience (a great answer), and why the company is located in Montana.

Click “more” to read the interview.

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