Who says brick and mortar is dead? As surprising as it might sound, 91% of US sales are still done in a brick and mortar setting. This despite what seems like a time when everyone is buying everything online. This figure has many young entrepreneurs turning away from ecommerce and apps and embracing the idea of a mom and pop store setup in a major city.
However, those interested in opening a brick and mortar business are likely starting from scratch when it comes to learning how to deal with customers in real time, face-to-face. While there are no doubt similarities between ecommerce and B&M customer service, the differences can trip up even the most experienced online sellers deciding to try their hand at a traditional store venture.
Rather than learn as you go from faux pas and dissatisfaction, consider the following a cheat sheet for mastering brick and mortar service out of the gate:
Is there a wait room? Will customers be sitting down either eating or waiting to eat? Whether it’s a hair salon or restaurant, such an environment calls for a reliable internet connection available to customers via wi-fi. While it may seem good enough to set up a subscription for the business package with an appropriate small business-grade bandwidth level, policing this connection once a week with an internet speed test will be important for addressing sluggish load times threatening customer satisfaction. Perhaps the only thing more disappointing than no free wi-fi is free wi-fi which is too slow to use.
Deciding when to be open is one of the more commonly overlooked aspects of brick and mortar business. The balance between availability to the customer and keeping costs down is delicate to say the least. Furthermore, inconsistent business hours can doom a mom and pop shop even if they face little local competition. At the end of the day, there are so many hours in the day; customers have jobs and families. Brick and mortar businesses must plan accordingly. Failure to do so is a sign of disrespect for one of the only things more important to customers than their money: their time. It gets customer service off to a bad start when the doors are open, and considering the relative ease in which poorly scheduled hours can be fixed, is an unforced error for brick and mortar enterprise.
Beyond a light and breezy greeting, this isn’t advocating the practice of badgering customers while they browse. Rather, once a customer makes it clear they wish to speak with staff either to check-out or ask a question – often by approaching a counter or reception area – rapid attention is critical in the brick and mortar setting. A minute waiting in line for an employee to appear is a lifetime to a customer and we all know it from experience as the customer. It’s hard to be a happy customer at the point of sale – or even make it that far – if no one is around to take the order or the question.
In the world of ecommerce, where drop shipping is the de facto path toward inventory management (with rare albeit rather large exceptions), the “old school” ways of handling on-site inventory are easily lost. However, virtually any brick and mortar business is going to have to embrace these classic approaches to inventory management to maintain a certain level of customer service going forward. In an age where one of the only things a B&M outfit can offer over their internet competition is ultra-real time delivery of product or service, being without the resources to make that happen is bad business plain and simple.
Despite what seems like a world dominated by ecommerce, brick and mortar business still serves as the setting for the vast majority of sales, at least in the United States. It’s a fact inspiring a growing number of small business shops and stores in cities across the country. However, without a basic understanding of brick and mortar customer service, the entrepreneurs behind these ventures risk failing at what traditional businesses are supposed to do best.