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Originally published in Twice Magazine

You approach the service counter of a typical retailer, any  retailer, armed only with a defective product and the extended service you purchased on it. You recall back one year ago when you purchased the product. The sales associate spun a glowing tale of being able to take care of you and your product for an additional three years beyond the manufacturer’s warranty. You were skeptical as it was explained to you about all the time, money and headaches that you would avoid if you bought their service contract. By the time they were done you were sold. You wanted the plan, you needed that plan. It was pricey, but the peace of mind it provided was well worth the investment. Besides, the sales associate was just so darn sincere.

Fast-forward one year. As you make the long walk to the customer service counter, it starts to resemble a scene right out of a Clint Eastwood western.  You receive a steely look from the person working behind the customer service counter. You imagine yourself in the center of town on a lonely, empty street while tumbleweeds roll by.

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Originally published in Twice Magazine


Ever notice how customer service and New Years resolutions seem to go hand in hand. Did you know that 2 of the most common New Year’s resolutions are 1.To get into better shape 2. Lose weight or to go on a diet. Both of those are exemplary goals but did you also know that of all the people who flood the health clubs in January only 25 % of them are still there on a regular basis in May. And the 90% of all people that were going on that New Year’s diet are off it by February! So have you deduced the connection to customer service?

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Here’s a little quiz to test how well your company is managing the returns problem. As fast as you can, name the person who runs Store Operations, Marketing, Merchandising, Returns Manager (not the Centralized Returns Manager or the Warehouse Manager). If you struggled on the Returns Manager join the group. Most companies don’t have someone who manages the returns process in its entirety. But why not? Returns will be a major factor influencing the profit of your company. Why a returns Manager? For the same reason you have a store manager or District Manager, to manage the company’s assets. Before you dismiss the idea of a returns manager, write down last years $ figure for returns. A returns manager should be able to reduce this number by 20%! Now is it worth it? An effective Returns Manager must interact with the following organizations on a daily basis to successfully manage and reduce returns: Manufacturer/Buyer, Marketing, Finance, Whse., Store Ops/ Field Reps, MIS, Human Resources, Training Dept., Repair Service, Delivery Dept., Replenishment and Loss Prevention.

Companies fail to substantially reduce returns because they let each of the aforementioned groups, do their own thing instead of appointing someone to coordinate efforts and follow the process all the way through. The return problem actually starts before the merchandise is purchased from the manufacturer and continues through to the end when product is returned.

Returns occur during one or a combination of five different phases:

  1. When the Retailer purchases the product. Do the Manufacturer and retailer develop a return prevention strategy or just talk return caps and penalties? Is returns training part of the vendor product training? Does the vendor bring focus group studies and historical data on sales and returns comparisons?
  2. The point of sale in the store. What are the expectations of the customer? Why and how did they get these expectations? How often do you train the salespeople on selling skills that determine the right product? Are sales and returns tracked by person? How often do you mystery shop the salespeople? Is the shop geared towards sales and returns prevention? What do you do with this information to create awareness and improve your training?
  3. The customer is home and they have a problem with the merchandise. Do you have a specific plan for keeping the customer at home? List the steps your people and the manufacturer take to resolve the problem in the customer’s home. Will this keep them from returning to the store? How have these steps been communicated to the sales associate or the manufacturers 800 line? How do you track the effectiveness of the plan?
  4. The customer returns to the store. The return customer is your most important customer, are they treated that way? Do you know what % of customers walk out with the same merchandise they came in with? (It should happen 50% of the time.) On average 30% to 40% of customers leave with cash or credit. Why? When this happens you’re losing a customer! There are specific training programs that teach techniques in handling this customer that will save the sale, have your people been trained?
  5. The merchandise is returned. When this happens how are you reacting to diminish margin erosion? Do you keep separate on line inventories? Are you tracking return inventory turn? Are you tracking profitability and productivity of your CRC’s? Does the decrement of inventory happen at the store and buyer level? How are you tracking margin and disposition of return merchandise? Do your compensation and appraisal programs reflect an effort to manage returns and hold people accountable?

To reduce returns and improve margins you need to treat returns as a business and manage it as a business. People who believe returns are a cost of doing business are living in the dark ages! Returns are a result of not managing your business properly. High Return Percentages are shouting to you that something is wrong with how you are handling the customer and/or the merchandise. Returns are not only a drain on profits but also on future business as the improper handling of a return can and will cost you customers. All the same problems exist for the manufacturer, my question for you, whether you are the retailer or the manufacturer is this:

Who is managing your returns?


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Better Sales - Building a Winning Sales Team

Better Sales - Is your Team ready to Deliver?

Just like in sports, retail has many competitors but only a few great teams. Did you ever wonder why the Chicago Bulls are able to play to a sold out stadium night after night? It's because the fans know their team has an excellent chance of winning every game. Chicago works hard at putting a great product out on the court every night. That's what makes them such a great team, they have the talent and they have the desire to dominate!

Is your company one of those great teams? Here is an easy way to tell: How is your Attendance? Do the fans (customers) return to your store like the fans in Chicago or do you find your attendance (store traffic) somewhat lacking? The customers are telling you everyday what they think of your teams customer service, by the number of times they return to your store to buy something. They are telling you in the form of better sales.

Better Sales - Customer Service is important but it isn't the key to success:

Aren't you sick of hearing all the rhetoric from people who say they believe the customer is number one? I mean if they believed it and it's their business, why aren't they giving better than just average run of the mill service? Why don’t they have better sales? Here's what one retailer said:

Average you say! Why I'll have you know I bought BUTTONS for all my people to wear that say "WE CARE ABOUT YOU" and they all wear RIBBONS that are attached to the buttons that say " ASK ME I CARE!" Why we even put up a Banner that says
"THE CUSTOMER IS #1!!" We even put signs up in the employee break room that remind them to SMILE and to treat the customer like a guest in your house. And on top of that we put a customer service committee in place. Why we are the most customer oriented retailer in the U.S.A.!!

It's obvious that this person has convinced himself, but let me ask, if his service was really this good why doesn’t he have better sales?

Better Sales - What Excellent Customer Service Is Not

It's not about putting BUTTONS and RIBBONS on your people, that tell how much they care, customers want people that show they care.

It's not about BANNERS that tell the customer they are #1, heck they already know that, they're just wondering why they never get treated like #1 from your people.

It's not about putting signs up in the employee lounge reminding your people to SMILE and treat the customer like a GUEST because 80% of all signs go unread.

By now you may have guessed that better customer service and better sales has something to do with your people but it's not just about your people. IT’S ABOUT YOU!

Better Sales - Taking Personal Responsibility

The next time you wonder why you don’t have better sales, take a minute to look in the mirror and ask yourself "What did I do today to help my people?".

Did I recognize yesterdays best performers?
or; did I focus my attention and get upset about the non performers?

Did I recognize associates in front of their peers?
or; did I just tell them when rushing by?

Did I take time with an associate that is struggling, to listen and offer some guidance.
or; did I just figure they were a waste and needed to go away? Is this why you hired them?

Did I ask my people for their specific input on how to achieve better sales?
or; Did I just figure they wouldn't come up with anything of value and do it myself? Two heads are better than one big one. Don't overlook the value and insight of your people, they spend more time on the floor with the merchandise and customers than you do.

Did I personally hand them their paycheck this week, shake their hand and thank them for a great week?
or; Did I let someone else hand it out to them over a counter like a hamburger at McDonalds?

Did I walk the sales floor with my people and review the merchandise in depth?
or; Did I just do it myself to save time today and waste my time and sacrifice better sales in the future because I'm the only one who knows what I want or expect.

Do I know what each of my people’s goals and personal aspirations in life are?
or; Do I just think I know? You don't prejudge or make assumptions about your customer, so why would you do it with your people?

Did I set an example for my people greeting and shaking customers hands and actually wait on customers?
or; Did I just tell my people to do it. Do as I say not as I do management.

Better Sales - The Trickle Down Effect

How well do you really know your people and how involved with them are you on a daily basis? You may fool yourself by saying you're involved but you won't fool your customer, because you see:
If you treat your people well they will treat your customer well.

If you treat your people as if they were the most important thing to you then they will treat your customer as if they were the most important thing to them.

If you show your people you care about them and value them they in return will show the customer they care and value them. But treat them with indifference and they will treat the customer with the same. Think about what it is you do each day with your people and challenge yourself to become more involved in their growth and the attainment of their goals. Remember you will only get better sales when you first help someone else get what they want!

Better Sales Through Better Hiring

Things to remember when hiring a new associate:

The day of the interview is as good as it gets! If they are trying their best to make an impression what does that impression say? How well were they dressed? Were they open and easy to talk to or were they quiet? Can they carry on a conversation and hold your interest? What you see today is what you will see on your sales floor tomorrow.

Were they a good listener? Go back and ask questions about something you explained earlier. This should tell you something about how well they will listen to your customers.

Did they express an interest in working in a particular area? If the person has no real interest and says they can work anywhere then point them to the pizza place in the mall. How good can anybody be at selling anything if they have no real interest.

Do they have ENTHUSIASM? If they don't have this then you don't want them on your floor! By enthusiasm I don't mean they have to be a cheerleader. They should have and show a desire, a fascination for the product and for selling. You can teach product knowledge but you can't teach personality, and better sales is a personal thing!

Selling is a people business, it's more than just the interaction between the customer and the salesperson, Its the more meaningful interaction between you and your people and the example you set on the floor that will determine the quality of service your customer gets and the success your business will enjoy. So the next time you ask yourself why you don’t have better sales, take a look in the mirror and see if the reason isn't right there in front of you!

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Bill Stuart • 8 Angel Trace • Brentwood • Tennessee • 37027 • 615.289.0007

John Quattrucci • 3 Harmony Ln • North Easton •MA • 02356 • 508-216-5759

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