Selling is an art and a science. Testing and measuring are vitally important, and so very rewarding when done correctly.
“Sales & Service”—sounds like a catchphrase, a slogan you might read when you walk into a car dealership or appliance store. Sure, it’s a cliché, but as with most clichés, there’s a reason why it’s part of our lexicon. Sales and service form the foundation of any successful business—whether a multinational corporation, a chain of clothing stores or a neighborhood tobacconist. While there are a number of other areas that are of great importance in order to succeed in business—including purchasing, inventory control and accounting—as a retailer you can’t have a business without sales, and you won’t maintain sales without customer service.
Customer service may take several forms—from greeting customers and assisting with a purchase to making recommendations and being a friendly face during a hectic day. But one fact remains constant. “Customer service is the direct one-on-one interaction between a consumer making a purchase and a representative of the company that is selling it,” writes Mitchell Grant and Julia Kagan on the website investopedia.com. “Most retailers see this direct interaction as a critical factor in ensuring buyer satisfaction and encouraging repeat business. Even today, when much of customer care is handled by automated self-service systems, the option to speak to a human being is seen as necessary to most businesses.”
In other words, sales and service are inextricably linked, and so it’s vital for the retailer to embrace the connection and develop an approach that puts this into practice. Andrew Hopkins thinks of service as a relaxed process. Hopkins is a third-generation tobacconist, operating three locations of Ye Olde Pipe & Tobacco Shoppe and Stag Tobacconists in the Phoenix area.
“We tend to let our customers shop a little bit,” he says. “We have a very extensive humidor, so it can be overwhelming. We check on the customer, but we also give them some space. Customers don’t want to be hovered over or feel they’re being rushed out. We check on them, we greet them when they come in, ask if they have any questions, give them some time and then follow up with them.”
And follow-up should extend to after the sale. “Customers are the assets of every business. Sales professionals must try their level best to satisfy customers for them to come back again,” writes Prachi Juneja, vice president of advanced analytic solutions at Dun & Bradstreet, for the website managementstudyguide.com. “After sales service refers to various processes which make sure customers are satisfied with the products and services. After sales service makes sure products and services meet or surpass the expectations of the customers.”
By this measure, what is incumbent upon the retail tobacconist is not only to make the sale, but also to ensure the customer’s needs have been met—and that the customer will want to return.
For Hopkins, Ye Olde Pipe and Stag Tobacco keep customers coming back by making their promotions consistent. “Our Metro store does great events regularly: Same date, same time, same location, every month. People just know, there’s always an event happening on the second Saturday of the month.”
His customers are also informed of events by a weekly email blast, and he utilizes his point-of-sale system to reward and reach out to his clientele. “We offer a 5 percent rewards program. Any new customer or existing customer can sign up for that option. By doing so we also capture their email, their information and their phone number, and it lets us track their purchases as well.”
It seems simple, and perhaps a bit transparent, but following up after a sale shows your customer that you care about him as an individual and that you want to retain his loyalty. Keap, an online technology company, defines after-sale service as all the things you do for the care and feeding of your valued customers after they buy your product. This type of customer aftercare is important for any business, but especially for small businesses where every client counts. It’s not enough to say “Thanks” or “Let’s keep in touch” after a sale is complete. Long-term success is built on real and lasting customer relationships.
So, what is customer aftercare? It’s all of these things: delighting customers after the sale, keeping in touch, asking for reviews and referrals, and rewarding customer loyalty.
As valuable as after-sales service can be, however, for most retailers, the main objective is making the customer’s in-store experience the focal point of their efforts. After all, if you don’t show that you value your customers, you’ll never keep them long enough to service their needs.
Jason Danzis runs Cigars on Main, a full-service retail cigar store and lounge in Freehold, New Jersey. He prioritizes the personal approach to customer service in this way: “As a retail business, customer service is the most important aspect of our business. Customers appreciate a greeting and our help with guiding them through a purchase. Customer service, for us, also extends to keeping the establishment clean and organized. Making our customers feel warm and welcome goes a long way for us.”
Offering excellent service and demonstrating that you value your customers is increasingly urgent in the age of online selling and digital marketing.
In the book The New Rules of Sales and Service, author David Meerman Scott stresses the realities of the new digital economy, noting that sales and service are being radically redefined by the biggest communications revolution in human history. He writes there is no more ‘selling’—only buying. He writes on, “When potential customers have near-perfect information on the web, it means salespeople must transform from authority to consultant, product narratives must tell a story, and businesses must be agile enough to respond before opportunity is lost. Because buyers are better informed, and come armed with more choices and opportunities than ever before, everything about sales has changed. Salespeople must adapt because the digital economy has turned the old model on its head, and those who don’t keep up will be left behind.
It sounds dire, but it doesn’t have to be. A good tobacconist can combat online competition with the kind of personal service not found in online transactions.
Veteran retailer David Garofalo, who owns and operates three New Hampshire locations of Two Guys Smoke Shop (see his column on next page), sees customer service as the only way to remain relevant.
“For brick and mortar, that’s what it’s all about,” he says. “Consumers can find a better price and a better selection online. We all know that. Times have changed, so stores have to have customer service, first and foremost, if they want to stay in business.”
Take, for example, how Garofalo assists customers at his stores. “Information is very important. Customers want to know when a new product comes out if they would like it or not. We don’t just sell a cigar to somebody if we don’t think it is the right product for them. You’d be amazed how often, when customers bring up a handful of cigars, we separate them out, and say to them, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to like this one.’ This may seem like the opposite of selling, but for the long term, it is the right thing to do.”
Garofalo also realizes the value of giving back to the community, and like anyone with a good head for business, he knows how to do it in an original and often entertaining way.
“For many years, we’ve charged a dollar for an empty cigar box,” he says. “We take the proceeds from that, which can add up to between five and ten thousand dollars, and we find some local charity that we can donate to. In Salem, New Hampshire, we bought the bomb-sniffing dog for the city, a $7,000 purchase. Another thing we’ve done is we’ve had the police and the fire department come to our parking lot, on Black Friday, and we had a tug of war between the police and fire department. The winner got $3,000 and the loser got $2,000.”
Using services like these to cycle back to sales is what can make one store succeed where others fail. It’s not always easy to accomplish, but there are several ways to go about it if you start thinking outside the box.
Garofalo has gained some perspective on this after 30 years in business, and he now takes a more philosophical approach toward building sales and service.
“Consumers can find a better price and a better selection online. We all know that. Times have changed, so stores have to have customer service, first and foremost, if they want to stay in business.”
“We can grow our business in a few different ways. We can try to get more customers, but to try to get the customer count up, which is important, is a tough thing to do,” he says. “We try to do it, but also it is getting more dollars out of your customer, which can happen through price increases, by getting them to buy better, and by having them come more often. That’s where events come in handy. They can be promotional events, where the customer gets something extra or they can be informational events. If it’s not with a manufacturer, we’ll do our own event, but there’s always something going on here. That’s a way to give customers a reason to come back, and to grow your business.”
Danzis adds: “Bringing in new items and hosting events are always a great way to maintain and grow sales. However, on a daily basis, aside from marketing efforts, the most important aspect of sales occurs in the humidor. We always make it a point to spend time with our customers in the humidor and guide then through their search for a cigar. We always suggest that they try an additional cigar to what they have in their hand. Most of the time they will take whatever they have already chosen plus our recommendation. We also make sure to ask about their interest in accessories. Many times they say they weren’t thinking about it, but they do need or want something.”
For each of these tobacconists, the focus comes back to engaging with their customers while maintaining a competitive edge through merchandise diversity.
“The main thing we try to focus on is being attentive to our regular customers,” says Hopkins. “Making sure that those who are in three, four times a week, the ‘lounge lizards,’ are made aware of new products we get in. It shows we’re aware of what he likes, so we can make good recommendations and it also keeps an open dialogue, showing we’re engaged with the customer.”
And Hopkins adds that product diversification should never be neglected. “We are arguably the largest dealer of pipes and tobacco in the entire southwest,” he says. We try to capitalize on that. We gain a lot of new business by having a very focused, very attentive staff to pipes and pipe tobacco. It sets us apart.”
Whether one’s business is an auto dealership, an appliance store or a retail tobacconist, sales and service are dependent upon each other. Making sales involves customer service, and good service will lead to increased sales.