Improving the Bride's Experience

It’s time to raise the bar for customer experiences by rethinking who your brides are, what they deeply value, and how your salon can deliver an experience that is consistent, differentiated and valuable.
    Improving the customer experience is all about serving your brides in a fundamentally exceptional manner. Here are six steps all retailers must take to achieve this level:

1. Focus on the details. Unlike commodity retail purchasing, wedding gown shopping is more likely to attract one-time customers so there isn’t typically as much repeat business in the bridal industry. There is, however, residual business in the form of referrals and reviews.
    “If you have ‘wowed’ your customer, they will convey this and evangelize, and recommend,” says Andrea Lewis, research director with Ad Hoc Global. “Likewise, if services and products fall short, customers will be unrelenting in their criticism and disappointment.  Therefore, it is all about the ‘little things’ and how retailers can differentiate their service in order to make the customer’s experience more personal, unique and meaningful.”
    Remember, you are not only selling a product or service, you are also selling the story surrounding a bride’s purchase.
    Donna Cutting, author of “501 Ways to Rollout the Red Carpet For Your Customers” (Career Press, 2015), says that it’s the experience you create for brides that they will remember (or not) and relate to others. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are two aspects to a customer’s experience.
    First, there’s the “technical” aspect. Among other things, this means having a good selection of gowns available in a variety of sizes and price points, as well as staff with the knowledge to ensure the transaction and dress delivery goes smoothly.
    “Typically the technical aspect is what people expect of you,” Cutting says. “You don’t often win points for delivering on the technical aspect, but you do lose points if you don’t.”
    The other aspect is the warmth and hospitality side. And this is where you win points.
    “Have a staff that knows how to make the customer feel great about themselves,” Cutting says. “Smiles, eye contact, calling people by name are the basics. The little ‘wow’ touches are what people will talk about.”
    For brides and couples about to get married, it’s about giving them the star treatment. Think before, during, and after the experience – what can you do  to make it amazing for them?
    The following tips can make a bride’s experience more profound in your store:

•    A preliminary phone call with
    directions, details
•    A personalized parking spot
•    A literal red carpet
•    Champagne or other beverages
    upon arrival
•    “Swag” or free gifts
•    Information she can use
•    A follow-up thank you call
•    A handwritten thank-you note
•    Flowers delivered to her home

    “These are the kinds of things people will rave about to their friends and cause them to refer to you when the time comes,” Cutting says. “When you roll out the red carpet for your customers, they run out and tell everyone they know.”

2. Focus on your phone tactics. Keep in mind: calling your store is often the first experience a bride has with your staff, so the importance of how the phone is answered can’t be overstated. Here are some tips for making an excellent first impression:
•    Speak in an upbeat, warm and friendly tone. A higher pitch communicates joy and happiness; a lower pitch communicates empathy and seriousness.
•    Use a standard greeting, so customers know what to expect. Keep it short and sweet.
•    Write down the caller’s name as soon as she gives it to you and use it a few times in the conversation.
•    Use words and phrases that instill confidence in your callers. Let go of Um, Yeah, or No Worries – and replace with Absolutely!, Gladly!, I will happily help you with that!
•    Always ask your customers if you may put them on hold (if you need to) and wait for their answer.
•    Check back every 45 seconds – and if you’re going to take longer than three minutes, ask if they would like you to call them back. Give them a timeframe so they know when to expect you – and then follow it.
•    Before saying goodbye, ask, “While I have you on the phone, is there anything else I can do for you?”

    “This is key for phone, e-mail and in-person transactions,” Cutting says. “The wedding and marriage experience is an emotional one – so you must be swept up in the excitement and emotion too.”
    And make sure your interactions aren’t all transactional.
    “Be there, be present and be excited for the bride or for the couple,” Cutting says. “Ask them about their wedding and be thrilled for them. In every interaction they should feel as if you are a partner in their special day.”

3. Training employees. The interactions that your employees have with your customers can make or break an exceptional experience. Therefore be sure to hire carefully. Look for people who have empathy, and who are caring and passionate about creating extraordinary customer experiences.
    “Define the customer experience as you want it to look,” Cutting says. “Don’t assume it’s common sense. Create a vision for the customer experience and then give your team the training and the tools they need to deliver on it. And be sure to model it for them – by the way you treat your team members. Give your staff members a little star treatment.”
    Also empower your employees with technology. Handheld devices (perhaps tablets) can put a great deal of knowledge in the hands of your staff, and give them confidence to “answer anything.”  It also allows them to be clear about prices, details and timing.
    “Also keep in mind that the experience goes beyond the primary customer, as there is usually a group dynamic to making decisions for such specialty purchases,” Lewis says.  
    For example, think of clever ways to handle how the group helps the decision along. Secret ballot voting on their smartphones or allowing the bride and her entourage to rank their favorite dress then pick the leading choices are all tasks that can be made simpler, slicker and more refined when using modern technology.
    Ray McKenzie, founder of Red Beach Advisors, a management consultancy specializing in customer success, says you must focus on a positive attitude each day when engaging clients. 
    “In the wedding industry, bridal clients are looking to create the best day ever and have the easiest and (most) enjoyable experience ever,” McKenzie says. “If the bridal retailer and the assistant is happy, in a great mood, and has available resources and concepts, it makes the customer experience extremely easy.”
    Store attendants also need to focus on product training. 
    “Be knowledgeable and be prepared: Train, train, and train,” he says. “Specialty stores are pictured as ‘expert’ stores. If someone in the store is not an expert it can damage the customer experience and brand.”

4. A customer-focused website. First and foremost your store’s website should be helpful and easy to understand – just as if the customer is being personally helped by your most poised and skilled sales associate.
    Information on the website must be understandable. Remember, some of the terms that are so familiar to you may be foreign to new customers.
    Do some usability testing. Make sure the menu items are clear and ask several target customers to find merchandise or information on the site. Also try to think of your website from the perspective of the user and what she might need:

•    “I want to buy/browse dresses”
•    “I want to return a dress”
•    “I want to make changes to my dress’”
•    “I want to find out where the store is”
•    “I want to contact the store”

    Make sure your site is optimized so it’s easy for customers to share products on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Easy social-sharing features are a must-have.
    Finally be sure to personalize the website experience. Target suggestions based on a customer’s previous searches and make product recommendations.
    “But such features are not just about selling more; retailers should make sure features are actually helpful,” Lewis says.     “Be the friendly voice that reminds a customer of something they might have forgotten or an item they will need to go along with something already purchased. Or be the loyal friend scouring through merchandise in an attempt to find something you know they will love because you know their style.”

5. Create a customer-focused environment. Some innovative retailers are now incorporating the voice of social sharing within their in-store experiences. For example, how many times an item has been “liked” or shared on Facebook or Instagram is displayed on hangers. While smaller shops may not have such real-time digital solutions, they could easily provide a tablet in-store for customers to read reviews on or see photos of others enjoying the item. The goal is to bring the in-store experience closer to real-life memories.
    McKenzie recommends creating a unique experience for customers and clients.
    “For specialty stores, I am a large proponent of sounds, video, and imagery within the store,” McKenzie says. “Not only through wedding dresses on display, or pictures of past classic weddings, but also videos of amazing weddings or experiences while clients are shopping. By showing weddings and showing visual displays, a client or customer can get ideas while in the store.”
    Bottom line: create the experience you would like your clients to have, and provide multiple experiences they can choose from.
    “Fall weddings should have an autumn experience; spring weddings should have a strong floral presence; summer destination weddings may need a vacation or resort experience surrounding the client in-store,” McKenzie says. “These examples are great to generate ideas and concepts that the client will be happy with.”

6. Embrace technology. Developing real relationships with customers is more important than ever. The Internet has allowed retailers to offer a personalized experience, and customers are beginning to expect it – both online and offline.
    “The Internet has brought your competition to your front door—and you’re no longer competing just with the specialty retailers in your neighborhood,” says Sue Laurent, owner at Never Stop Marketing.
    But providing personal, one-on-one experiences will set you apart. The experience should extend beyond your store doors. In fact, customers are more connected than ever. For many of them, a sure way to improve experiences is to fully embrace technology.
    Ashley Orndorff, market research analyst at Visual Impact Group, an advertising agency in York, Pa., points out that retailer Rebecca Minkoff has revolutionized the in-store shopping experience with technology. Their dressing room mirrors are fully connected and using the touchscreen interface built into them, customers can see what their outfit would look like in different types of lighting. They can also request different sizes or colors from the interface, which will communicate with employees who then bring the requested items.
    “In the dressing room, the customer will receive a message indicating who will be bringing them the items and how long until they get there, even if it’s 30 seconds,” Orndorff says. “From the interface, a customer can also see related items and accessories, and more. This is what it means to have a connected, integrated experience available for your customers.”
    When searching for the right dress, a bride will likely try on several, while commenting on the features she likes and doesn’t like.
    “Imagine if there were an interface where the consultant could pull up dresses that matched the features the bride likes while filtering out those they didn’t like,” Orndorff says. “It would save time and decrease frustration on the bride’s part. She’ll be able to find what she wants faster, more efficiently, and without having to try on an endless stream of gowns to find ‘the one.’ She’ll likely still try on several, but they’ll be much closer to what she wants, so the experience will be more enjoyable and exciting.”
    Also, make sure you have an active presence on social media. Brides Magazine 2014 American Wedding Study discovered that 64% of brides have Pinterest Boards.
    “Make sure your retail store has plenty of pictures that are optimized for Pinterest search, sharing, and most importantly, brand your store and send prospects to your site,” Laurent says. “An active Facebook and Instagram presence are also key to sharing great visuals that will help your target brides envision themselves wearing your products as they dazzle down the aisle.”

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