Driving New Business in a Recession

Collecting customer data, using anonymous surveys and flawless execution can all be effective in attracting repeat customers.

By John Lofstock, Editor.

Downward slanting sales, a depleted customer base, constant stress, worry and handwringing…if these symptoms are all too familiar, then it’s likely your store is suffering from “recessionitis,” a disease plaguing many good-intentioned retailers.

Fortunately, there is a cure, said retail expert Rick Segel, and it begins with maximizing your customers at every opportunity throughout the recession and beyond.

“Business is tougher than it has ever been, yet there are stores that are staying relatively healthy,” Segel said. “What are they doing right? Quite simply, they are getting the most out of every customer who walks in. Even though they might have fewer customers come through their doors, by maximizing the ones they do have, they’re managing to beat this recession.”

How exactly does one maximize every customer?

“It means getting the most out of every customer every time they enter your store,” Segel said. “It means suggesting products before they check out, collecting as much data about your customers as possible and rallying your sales clerks to stay focused and doing the right things every time.”

Here are a few tips from Segel to get you started:

1. Sell the customer as much as possible.
Then sell them some more. Here’s the simple truth: Retailers make more money when customers buy more than one item. In order to get customers to buy more, employees must practice the art of making multiple sales. The trick is teaching them to remember four magic words: Did you see this?

“Let’s say your store sells fresh sandwiches,” Segel said. “If a customer is going to purchase a sandwich, your clerks must ask, ‘Did you want a snack or a bag of chips with that?’ or ‘What beverage would you like with this?’ The customer may decline, or they might walk over and pick up some additional items.”

2. Become a relentless data collector.
Basically, ask yourself, “What should I find out from this person that will help me get him back in my store? Ask customers what else you could sell that they would like to buy, and when customers do buy something, try to collect their contact information—phone number, e-mail and address, or whatever they are willing to give—so that you can send them information about your store. Once you have this information, put every detail into your customer database for future reference.

“Collecting data from your customers can be easier said than done,” Segel said. “Whenever you get a customer to open up, remind them that this information will help you better serve her. And when you ask for contact information, explain that having it will allow you to send coupons and exclusive sales information. When customers know how they’ll benefit, they’ll be far more likely to talk.”

3. Create a customer wish list.
Then, try to grant those wishes. “If a customer wants an item you don’t have, like a new seasonal beer or snack item, get their contact information on your customer wish list,” Segel said. “That way when the item is in, you can give them a call or send them an e-mail to let them know. This is a great way for you to stay in front of your customers and give them a reason to come back to your stores.”

4. Do whatever it takes to keep the customer referrals coming.

In today’s economy, customer referrals can be a great way to boost revenue. You have to make sure your sales clerks get in the habit of asking customers if they have any friends or family who would like what you sell.
Since customers are often reluctant to provide a friend or family member’s contact information, don’t be afraid to make them an offer they can’t refuse.

“You might give the person doing the referring a $10 gift card, and the person they referred 25% off their sales total in their first visit to the store. I know this feels painful, but just think about the lifetime value that new customer could provide,” Segel said. “If they keep coming back to your store, you’ll make back what you may have lost in the discount, and you’ll continue to make money if you turn them into a loyal customer.”

5. Get your customers to sing your praises…and record their arias.
Customer testimonials are the most powerful form of marketing for retailers. So, any time a customer sings your praises, be sure to capture the moment. Segel suggested bringing customer testimonials into the 21st century by keeping a digital camera and a notepad by the cash register.

When a customer gives you a compliment, thank them and ask if you can write it down and take their picture. Then put it on display.

6. Turn your customers into research sleuths.

The curse of the retailer is that despite how beneficial it is for you to see what other stores are doing you are often trapped in your own store. Your customers, however, have more opportunities than you to get out and about. You might as well take advantage of their mobility.

“Ask your customers where they’ve been shopping and what interesting merchandise or clever sales promotions they’ve seen,” advised Segel. “Ask the right customers in the right way and you will get unbelievably valuable information. This also helps you make a special connection with your customer—most people love being asked their opinion. It makes them feel important.”

7. Seek out anonymous feedback via customer surveys.

Many retail owners don’t use surveys, but the truth is they can be very valuable. Anonymous surveys, in particular, are a great way to get straightforward feedback from core customers.

“You’ll find out things about your store that no one would ever say to your face,” Segel said. “Sure, it might be hard to see the results on paper, but surveys allow you to correct any problems that are mentioned, and it gives customers a chance to be heard, which is something they always appreciate.”

If you’re doing things right in the first place the survey results shouldn’t be all negative.

“You might find out that certain customers would be coming in more if you had a certain product line or if you ran a certain promotion more often,” Segel said.

8. Create a customer advisory board.
“Ask a few of your loyal customers if they would be willing to meet with you about four times a year so that you can pick their brains about your store,” Segel said. “At meetings, ask what they think about your merchandise, your employees, the way you do business, etc. Remember, those on your advisory board should not have lifetime appointments. You’ll want to switch them in and out every year or so to ensure you are getting the freshest perspectives possible.”

Above all, Segel emphasized, chains must focus on what they can do to genuinely improve a customer’s day  with great service rather than what a customer can do for them.

“You must build relationships. Whether that means you take the extra time to really explain a product to someone or give them a gift card as thanks for referring a customer, you’ll be building a relationship that turns into customer loyalty,” Segel said. “We are living in the era of proactive retailing. We can’t wait for customers to just walk through the front door anymore. Going the extra mile every day can keep customers spending and coming back for more, and that’s the best recession survival strategy you’ll ever find.”



  1. Memeblonde15 says:

    Thanks Its all about the customer .At my store meetings I can never say enough obout customer service it will bring them back

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