There are few (if any) industries where customer service is not an important form of competitive advantage, but for the convenience store industry it is an essential component of survival. As the name suggests, most people who habitually shop at a convenience store did not begin to do so because they were looking for a bargain—they made that initial purchase because they wanted coffee but Starbucks was packed; or because they wanted a soda; or because they didn’t want to have to go into a drug store to make a separate purchase for cigarettes—they shopped there because it was convenient! Customer service is required in order to transition customers from one-time buyers to repeat buyers. Once it becomes inconvenient to shop at a location due to: a.) long lines, b.) dirty bathrooms or c.) poor inventory selection that does not meet customer needs, the customer will no longer do so. Customers inherently form buying habits, so unless your gas is priced significantly less than the local competition compelling your customers to stay, you will quickly find your business thrown to the wayside, replaced by well-lit, cleaner stores that are dedicated to customer service.
If you want to improve the customer service of your convenience store(s), here are 3 ways to do so:
Train your staff to be “Experience-Makers”
Customer service starts at the top. Managers must train their employees to value both the customer and the business. Train them to do the little things that make a difference, such as consistently cleaning the restrooms and floor. The most important part of customer service in the convenience store industry is efficiency; customers expect to be in and out of a store in less than 3-4 minutes. Make certain your employees know how to quickly handle point-of-sale procedures to minimize wait-time. Also make sure they understand the store layout to quickly point customers in the right direction when prompted. Most customers who consistently shop at a single location do so because of a positive experience there, thinking “Wow, they have a great selection of energy drinks!” or “Hey, this place is so much cleaner than the others!” Empower your staff to make the customer experience not only convenient, but also positive.
Optimize your inventory management
A large part of customer service is being aware of the needs of your customers. For companies that operate convenience stores this means having the right inventory on hand and in the right quantities. It is worth examining your current inventory management process to see if you are effectively meeting the needs of your customers. Are you able to determine which items are selling quickly off the shelves and may deserve more attention? Are you able to determine which slow turnover items are taking up too much space? Scanning your inventory in from vendors, scanning it out at the point of sale, and utilizing a centralized price book at the corporate office form the foundation of an effective inventory management system. This will ensure that you are receiving the correct quantities of inventory at the correct cost, and that inventory is selling at the correct price. This guarantees the integrity of your margins, and greatly increases the speed of check-out time since your employees have minimal data to key in. You are also equipped with a robust level of inventory information available to you in the form of store reporting, providing a better picture of your inventory. Having critical inventory information is what allows you to be proactive in meeting the needs of your customers, rather than sitting back and guessing.
Minimize surrounding distractions
We led off by discussing the importance of employee training. Do your store managers have the time to train employees or monitor their performance? How much time are they spending performing daily paperwork or handling their end-of-day close? Find ways to eliminate or at least minimize the time they spend in the back of the store. To create winning experiences that lead to repeat sales, the focus has to be on the customer. If your store managers are spending multiple hours on paperwork each day, then their focus clearly is not in the right place. Automation of your store processes can optimize the efficiency of your operations, and keep your managers where the need to be—out front where the money is.
If you take the time to effectively train your staff on the importance of customer service, become proactive in your inventory management to maximize customer satisfaction, and eliminate the distractions that keep you from serving your customers to the best of your ability, you will achieve a higher level of customer service–it will become a competitive advantage for you, creating those essential repeat customers, and exponentially driving up your sales.
Improved customer service is a crucial benefit FACTOR provides to our customers who operate c-stores. We would love to have a conversation about your store operations and the various ways we can help you improve!