The Art of Customer Service
Neiman Marcus Brief History In the early 1900’s, the founding team of Neiman Marcus had $25,000 to invest, and turned down a franchise selling opportunity for an “obscure” fountain drink called Coca Cola in order to make the Neiman Marcus department store a reality. The first Neiman Marcus store was opened in 1907 in Dallas Texas and was founded by Herbert Marcus, his sister, Carrie Marcus Neiman, and his brother-in-law, Al Neiman. Neiman Marcus department stores offer high-fashion, high-quality women’s and men’s apparel, shoes, accessories, fine jewelry, china, crystal, and silver. Neiman Marcus was a leader in innovation being the first to create a customer loyalty program (InCircle), and the first in-store giftwrapping service. The company currently operates over 40 Neiman Marcus stores in 20 states, as well as two Bergdorf Goodman stores in New York City and about 30 Last Call clearance center outlets that sell marked down goods. The upscale retailer is owned by Newton Holding.
Mission Statement: â€œNeiman Marcus Stores will be the premier luxury retailer recognized for merchandise leadership and superior customer service. We will offer the finest fashion and quality products in an exceptional exceptional environment.â€?
Innovating The Retail Experience Neiman Marcus trains leaders to work for their company with a standard for excellence. They encourage innovation and community involvement. Being a leading luxury retailer with a culture focused on being your best ties in with my career goals. I would love to work in a luxury store environment where talent is recognized and rewarded, the visuals are inspiring, and the customer service experience is rewarding for both the employee and customer. Starting as a sales associate for a company like Neiman Marcus is a stepping stone to become intune with the store environment and to build strong customer relationships through active involvement on the store level.
The Art of Customer Service Companies that emphasize the best value and brand image but do not focus on implementing superior customer service have created a negative stigma of the retail environment. Brand equity nowadays is measured in advertising and celebrity endorsement; marketing overshadows customer service. Customers may be drawn to a store because of the luxury brand image or outstanding advertisements in magazines, but will quickly be deterred from finalizing a sale if faced with an unsatisfactory service experience. The retail industry as a whole must be willing to adapt to solidify positive brand images; focusing on technological and customercentric demands rather than advertising alone. The 21st century is calling for a revolution in retail; a revamping of employee and customer interaction by introducing enthusiastic and knowledgeable sales staff and an integration of the increasing presence of technology through interactive social media and multi-channels.
Shopping as an Entertainment Experience At the turn of the 20th century, department stores like Neiman Marcus were on the rise; within the department store, potential customers were encouraged to browse and prompted to take their time and peruse the vast array of goods. People could come and be enthralled by what they saw; this ability to wander was revolutionary in the sense that it offered a new type of liberty- a place where selling is mingled with amusement (Moss, 22). For some people, shopping is the most exciting experience they engage in; it is comforting, pleasing, and stimulating; people wish to enter a fantasy world that will take them beyond their ordinary everyday encounters (Moss, 9). For others, shopping is an extremely stressful experience that is characterized by being overwhelmed with the variety and quantity of products and the arrangement of the store. If they are not provided with a helpful sales staff their high expectations of a luxury store will not be met. Retailers have been in a crunch the last several years due to recession and have cut costs; as a result there are less-invested sales associates (Cotton Incorporated). According to American Express’ 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer, “55 percent of consumers said they wouldn’t hesitate to leave a store mid-transaction due to poor customer service”. On the other hand, two-thirds of consumers said they’d be willing to spend more at a retailer that provides excellent customer service (Edelson).
The Art of Customer Service Expensive marketing campaigns can be easily undermined by poor customer experience. Sales staff are a customer’s first point of contact when shopping: That relationship runs parallel to the consumer’s vision of the brand. A negative experience in a store due to bad customer service can have a long-lasting impact on how the average retail shopper perceives a company and can easily negate millions of dollars invested into advertising. Wordof-mouth and negative reviews from a single disgruntled customer can cause harm to a company with the high saturation of social media. According to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, “79 percent of Americans cited one of the following “Big Four Gripes” when it comes to customer service: rudeness from an insensitive customer service representative (33 percent), passing the buck (26 percent), the waiting game (10 percent) and having to keep following up on an issue, (10 percent) (Cotton Incorporated). If someone is assisted too quickly, and the service is too aggressive, that’s a negative for the customer. Customers do not want to be offered service the second they enter a store because it disconnects the organic conversation. Customers can become dissatisfied when they aren’t assisted in finding garments customized to their needs and aren’t helped while they’re in the dressing room or receive no follow-up to the sale.
The Art of Customer Service Brands will attract consumers by creating the world they want to live in; the more attention paid to consumers, the better revenue for the store. Retailers are quickly discovering they can distinguish their names and improve the bottom line with top-notch customer service. There’s a reviving market in retail for people whose work adds significant texture, vibrancy and human connection to the retail experience. People who are believers in the brand values, super-users of their products and co-creators who love to help their customers imagine and personalize solutions (Stephens). If companies focus on hiring and training truly talented and creative people who have a passion for the industry, negative stigma of the retail environment can be eliminated. Trained sales staff can build positive brand image for a company by acting as personal shoppers and brand ambassadors; taking all of the stress out of the shopping experience by thinking for the customer and the necessities they need for their wardrobe. On average, consumers shop in stores about two times a month, and online once a month, spending roughly 100 minutes at each location, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey (Cotton Incorporated). Sales associates will capture the customer’s loyalty within their select times set aside for shopping by guiding consumers through the store, catering to their needs, enticing imagination, and leaving the consumer filled with joy. Sales associates must make the customer feel at ease in the store by discussing generalized topics and the customers’ interests when they first enter.
Superior Customer Service Sales associates can have a hands-on role when it comes to fitting, color matching, adding texture, quality, and statement pieces to maximize the customer’s wardrobe. Whether it is respectfully working within the customers’ budget, or making sure to check-in on customers in the dressing room to offer additional sizes, going the extra mile for the customer will have a lasting impact on the store’s reputation (Cotton Incorporated). The customer’s image of the brand will be solidified with a follow up after the purchase; keeping track of their past purchases, and checking in to see if they enjoyed their new merchandise. Building a trusting relationship with the consumer creates a comfort level that allows continued patronage for each season and in turn customer lifetime patronage and referrals. Without this necessary positive employee and customer interaction not only will revenue be affected, but the brand image of the company will be tarnished. Ultimately, a deep connection with customers is what creates a positive brand image rather than expensive advertising campaigns.
The Art of Multi-Channels The digital age has significantly altered the relationship between consumers and brands. Innovation in the digital realm is impacting brick-and-mortar stores and changing the retail environment. Consumers not only demand superior customer service; they want service provided to them in innovative technological ways. This year 85 percent of luxury marketers plan to increase their digital media spend significantly, according to a survey by Luxury Interactive. The reason is because shoppers are spending more time online with mobile adding a particular boost and growing 70 percent last year (Gardner). People are using their digital devices to discover style alternatives to save time and money, and as a form of entertainment. This is the new era of multichannel marketing; the strategy challenges brands to ensure an integrated message in multiple channels by providing the same level of customer service through all channels, whether itâ€™s the brick-and-mortar store, on a smart phone, or online (Lockwood).
The Art of Multi-Channels With new technology flowing onto sales floors, retailers are trying to strike a balance between human interaction and electronic efficiency (Edelson). There are different expectations for stores and the Web. Online, it may be the rotation of product and in stores it may be the sales associatesâ€™ personal touch. Consumers who make purchases on two or more channels spend more per year than single channel shoppers and ultimately thatâ€™s what counts (Lockwood). Rather than focusing on creating positive brand image through expensive advertising campaigns, retailers must respond to consumer shifts and focus on integrating technology in-store while maintaining superior level of customer service within every channel.For retail to succeed, retailers have to attract good sales associates who value a customer-centric environment while balancing the emergence of the technological world.
Neiman Marcus: Service App Neiman Marcus is exemplary with integrating multi-channels and emphasizing customer service in the brick-and-mortar stores. Aaron Shockey, vice president of digital marketing and advertising at the Neiman Marcus Group said the company’s goal is to create an omnichannel experience, “We call it the O2O [Offline to Online] brand experience” (Edelson). Customers enjoy engaging with content; more than half of Neiman’s customers use smartphones in stores (Edelson). According to Shockey, “By 2016, smart phones will influence roughly 20 percent of US sales,” and “Roughly 75 percent of Neiman Marcus customers report relying on multiple channels when making a purchase”. No longer is the sales associate position simply greeting customers and finalizing a purchase; it is guiding customers through multi-channels on a fantasy journey, providing innovative thinking strategies, personalization, and brand knowledge. Neiman Marcus sales associates are using an iPhone app in the testing phase to check a customer’s sales history and wish lists in order to suggest appropriate products. The app, NM Service, also identifies best customers to the sales staff when they enter the store (Edelson). According to Jim Gold, president of specialty retail at the Neiman Marcus Group, “The NM Service app allows the company to take its service philosophy into the digital era” (Edelson). This type of service app allows for the integration of multi-channels, mixing mobile with reality. Sales associates will be able to create deeper relationships with customers by texting photos of merchandise and customizing looks to cater to their needs.
The Art of Multi-Channels Superior customer service from sales associates is the key to success for retailers in the 21st century; brand image is not only created through corporate identity and advertising, it is created by the helpful employees within the store, and the companyâ€™s willingness to adapt to the technological world. By focusing on training sales associates to provide superior customer service through all channels, the reputation for the store will be improved, and ultimately the bottom line will improve. Exceptional customer service strategies will revamp retail in the 21st century; consumers will no longer see retail as a stressful experience, but will see retail as the entertainment experience it was intended to be. The revival of talented associates in the retail environment will stand out as a position that is valued and regarded as an integral part of creating positive brand image as well as building customer relationships through the selling experience.
The Art of Sales Being a sales associate is an important stepping stone to growing within a company because it allows an individual to have hands-on experience with the product and customers. Building a strong foundation as a sales associate down the line creates stronger employees in the corporate environment because they understand how to create the most positive brand image on the store-level.
1. Organizational skills
In order to provide superior customer service , sales associates must have the ability to keep track of frequent customers, their likes and dislikes and their contact information. Associates must follow store procedures and be able to locate documentation and inventory, and follow the company’s system for filing paperwork (Wile). Associates are also often responsible for ensuring merchandise is displayed in an organized and appealing manner.
2. Interpersonal skills
Sales associates must be able to make customers feel welcome and valued in the retail environment. Advanced interpersonal skills can make a good sales associate even better. Corporate trainer Stephan Shiffman points out in his book “25 Sales Skills They Don’t Teach at Business School” that an effective sales associate is able to anticipate customer responses---and have his own response prepared so that he is not taken off-guard (Wile). Sales associates need to be good team players who are able to capably resolve conflicts that arise in the work environment.
The Art of Sales
3. Communication skills
A sales associate must have the ability to effectively tell customers about the products, and needs to be able to comfortably greet customers and make small talk. Good sales associates can identify what customers are looking for by listening carefully to what the customer is saying he/she needs. A sales associate must speak to customers with the intent of being interested in the customer, rather than being initially interested in the sale.
4. Literacy Skills
Sales associates must have a high level of literacy in reading, writing, math and technology. Customers may ask about discounts, requiring the associate to calculate prices. Associates will likely be working with a sophisticated register system, and must be able to effectively troubleshoot technical problems (Wile).
5. Maintaining Professionalism
Everyone has a rough day every now and then. Although it can be difficult to keep composure when our personal lives are stressful, maintaining a positive attitude and a professional demeanor while at work is key to being successful in the retail world.
The Art of Sales
6. Go above and beyond
Once assigned tasks are completed, there’s always room to continue to tidy-up, help customers, or think of new innovate ideas to improve the store-experience. The retail environment will benefit from the associates ability to add creativity to any situation with little direction and extra enthusiasm.
7. Keep up with company information
Sales associates must always be updated with the store and his/her specific department. It’s important to have a strong understanding of the company’s history and culture, and to apply those values while interacting with fellow employees and customers. It’s also important to have a concrete understanding of all of the upcoming sales, promotions, and events within the store to assist customers on finding the best value at the best quality.
8. Show Empathy and Respect
Being able to look at a situation through the eyes of a customer is an extremely valuable skill that can enable the sales associate to provide the highest degree of service (Wile). Customers must be treated with respect, even in the most challenging situations.
The Art of Sales
9. Show your credibility
Showing the customer that you are credible and they can trust you is important to securing a sale. This may be accomplished by using specifications for products, independent articles, or references (Wile). A promise may be as simple as a commitment to follow-up with additional information by a specific time. A successful sales professional earns the trust of every single customer through commitments and actions.
10. Be Proactive
Instead of merely pointing where to find a particular item, show the customer exactly where the item is located and demonstrate to them how to use it and suggest other styling variations. Itâ€™s never a good idea to wait until a customer is stressed or agitated before offering assistance (Wile). Being one step ahead to gauge when someone needs help is the best way to minimize a brewing situation.
Works Cited Cotton Incorporated. “As You Like It: Retailers Explore the Fine Art of Good Customer Service.”Women’s Wear Daily. WWD, 30 Aug 2012. Web. 19 May 2013. <http://0-www.wwd.com.library.scad.edu/markets-news/textiles/as-you-like-itretailers-explore-the-fine-art-of-good-customer-service-6204864>. Edelson, Sharon. “Neiman Marcus and the Art of Omnichannel.” Women’s Wear Daily. WWD, 09 26 2012. Web. 19 May 2013. <http://www.wwd.com.library.scad. edu/retail-news/department-stores/neimans-o2o-experience>. Edelson, Sharon. “Customer Service: Getting Back to Basics.” Women’s Wear Daily. WWD, 06 Aug 2012. Web. 19 May 2013. <http://www.wwd.com.library.scad. edu/retail-news/trends-analysis/customer-service-getting-back-to-basics>. Gardner, Patrick. “Luxury Brands should swap ads for tech-driven customer engagement.” Wired. N.p., 19 Mar 2013. Web. 19 May 2013. <http://www.wired. co.uk/news/archive/2013-03/19/how-fashion-brands-should-use-tech>. Lockwood, Lisa. “Special Report: Catering to the Ever-demanding Customer.” Women’s Wear Daily. WWD, 24 Oct 2012. Web. 19 May 2013. <http://0-www.wwd. com.library.scad.edu/retail-news/retail-features/catering-to-the-ever-demandingcustomer-6445775>. Moss, Mark. Shopping As an Entertainment Experience. Plymouth, United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2007. 9-30. Print. Stephens, Doug. “Retail’s New Industrial Revolution.”Retail Customer Experience. N.p., 13 Apr 2013. Web. 19 May 2013. <http://www.retailcustomerexperience.com/ article/211387/Retail-s-new-industrial-revolution>. Wile, Elise. “What Skills Make a Good Sales Associate.”Small Business Chronicle . N.p., n.d. Web. 19 May 2013. <http://smallbusiness.chron.com/skills-make-goodsales-associate-12784.html>.