Companies are often searching for ways to delight their customers, increase incremental sales, and reduce their inventory of low-volume or one-off items. These goals are typically pursued individually, but there's no reason you can't achieve all three at once. The secret is connecting your customer's personal interests with your unique inventory items. Here are three steps to take to use personal service to increase special sales and deepen customer engagement.
- Keep an interest list
- Match their interests to your inventory
- Proactively follow-up
Step 1: Keep an interest list
The first step is finding an efficient way to keep track of your customers' personal interests. Online t-shirt retailer Threadless allows customers to add themselves to a virtual waiting list for out of print designs. If you have sales reps, you can use have them enter customer interests into your customer relationship management (CRM) software. Even brick and mortar retailers can encourage sales associates to simply jot down individual customer requests along with their contact information for future follow-up.
Compare this first step to a typical shopping experience. You walk into a store looking for something particular but they don't have it. You ask a sales rep and they meekly suggest you try back next week because they "might be getting some more in then". This is a golden opportunity to deepen customer engagement and capture valuable marketing data all at the same time. Too bad most of us take our business elsewhere or simply forgo the purchase if it is a luxury or impulse buy.
Step 2: Match their interests to your inventory
The second step is matching your customers' interests to products in your inventory or better yet, using your customer interest list to make better inventory decisions. Threadless uses their interest lists to decide whether to re-produce an out of print design. I once managed the call center for a catalog company and we would use our CRM software to generate lists of customers who might be interested in one-off or low quantity items. On an individual level, you can periodically check your inventory for products that might be great for a favored customer.
Step 3: Proactively follow-up
A good follow-up plan is the key to turning personalized service into a sale. This morning, I received an email from Threadless telling me that had just reprinted a t-shirt that I had missed out on the first time around. Click, click, ordered. (Thanks, Threadless!) At my former catalog company, I would have my customer service reps call collectors with special offers during slow times. (My customer service reps didn't mind the outbound calls because the people they were calling had already expressed an interest in the products we were offering.)
How to get started...
You can use personalized service to improve sales (and reduce inventory) on an individual, team, or company level. Getting started can be as easy as making a commitment to try out the three steps outlined above. Of course, you can drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like some ideas or need some help.